{tocify}



The Man in the Iron Mask

PART I



Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up





CHAPTER 1

Two Old Friends
Whilst everyone at court was busily engaged with his own affairs, a man mysteriously took up his post behind the Place de Grève, in the house which we once saw besieged by d’Artagnan on the occasion of the émeute. The principal entrance of the house was in the Place Baudoyer; it was tolerably large, surrounded by gardens, enclosed in the Rue Saint-Jean by the shops of toolmakers, which protected it from prying looks, and was walled in by a triple rampart of stone, noise, and verdure, like an embalmed mummy in its triple coffin. The man we have just alluded to walked along with a firm step, although he was no longer in his early prime. His dark cloak and long sword plainly revealed one who seemed in search of adventures; and, judging from his curling mustache, his fine smooth skin, which could be seen beneath his sombrero, it would not have been difficult to pronounce that gallantry had not a little share in his adventures. In fact, hardly had the cavalier entered the house, when the clock struck eight; and ten minutes afterwards a lady, followed by a servant armed to the teeth, approached and knocked at the same door, which an old woman immediately opened for her. The lady raised her veil as she entered; though no longer beautiful or young, she was still active and of an imposing carriage. She concealed, beneath a rich toilette and the most exquisite taste, an age which Ninon de l’Enclos alone could have smiled at with impunity. Hardly had she reached the vestibule, when the cavalier, whose features we have only roughly sketched, advanced towards her, holding out his hand.

“Good day, my dear duchesse,” he said.

“How do you do, my dear Aramis?” replied the duchesse.

He led her to a most elegantly furnished apartment, on whose high windows were reflected the expiring rays of the setting sun, which filtered gaudily through the dark green needles of the adjacent firs. They sat down side by side. Neither of them thought of asking for additional light in the room, and they buried themselves as it were in the shadow, as if they wished to bury themselves in forgetfulness.

“Chevalier,” said the duchesse, “you have never given me a single sign of life since our interview at Fontainebleau, and I confess that your presence there on the day of the Franciscan’s death, and your initiation in certain secrets, caused me the liveliest astonishment I ever experienced in my whole life.”

“I can explain my presence there to you, as well as my initiation,” said Aramis.

“But let us, first of all,” said the duchess, “talk a little of ourselves, for our friendship is by no means of recent date.”

“Yes, Madame: and if Heaven wills it, we shall continue to be friends, I will not say for a long time, but forever.”

“That is quite certain, chevalier, and my visit is a proof of it.”

“Our interests, duchess, are no longer the same as they used to be,” said Aramis, smiling without apprehension in the growing gloom by which the room was overcast, for it could not reveal that his smile was less agreeable and not so bright as formerly.

“No, chevalier, at the present day we have other interests. Every period of life brings its own; and, as we now understand each other in conversing, as perfectly as we formerly did without saying a word, let us talk, if you like.”

“I am at your orders, duchesse. Ah! I beg your pardon, how did you obtain my address, and what was your object?”

“You ask me why? I have told you. Curiosity in the first place. I wished to know what you could have to do with the Franciscan, with whom I had certain business transactions, and who died so singularly. You know that on the occasion of our interview at Fontainebleau, in the cemetery, at the foot of the grave so recently closed, we were both so much overcome by our emotions that we omitted to confide to each other what we may have to say.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“Well, then, I had no sooner left you than I repented, and have ever since been most anxious to ascertain the truth. You know that Madame de Longueville and myself are almost one, I suppose?”

“I was not aware,” said Aramis, discreetly.

“I remembered, therefore,” continued the duchesse, “that neither of us said anything to the other in the cemetery; that you did not speak of the relationship in which you stood to the Franciscan, whose burial you superintended, and that I did not refer to the position in which I stood to him; all which seemed very unworthy of two such old friends as ourselves, and I have sought an opportunity of an interview with you in order to give you some information that I have recently acquired, and to assure you that Marie Michon, now no more, has left behind her one who has preserved her recollection of events.”

Aramis bowed over the duchess’s hand, and pressed his lips upon it. “You must have had some trouble to find me again,” he said.

“Yes,” she answered, annoyed to find the subject taking a turn which Aramis wished to give it; “but I knew you were a friend of M. Fouquet’s, and so I inquired in that direction.”

“A friend! oh!” exclaimed the chevalier, “I can hardly pretend to be that. A poor priest who has been favored by a generous protector, and whose heart is full of gratitude and devotion, is all that I pretend to be to M. Fouquet.”

“He made you a bishop?”

“Yes, duchesse.”

“A very good retiring pension for so handsome a musketeer.”

Yes; in the same way that political intrigue is for yourself, thought Aramis. “And so,” he added, “you inquired after me at M. Fouquet’s?”

“Easily enough. You had been to Fontainebleau with him, and had undertaken a voyage to your diocese, which is Belle-Île-en-Mer, I believe.”

“No, Madame,” said Aramis. “My diocese is Vannes.”

“I meant that. I only thought that Belle-Île-en-Mer⁠—”

“Is a property belonging to M. Fouquet, nothing more.”

“Ah! I had been told that Belle-Isle was fortified; besides, I know how great the military knowledge is you possess.”

“I have forgotten everything of the kind since I entered the Church,” said Aramis, annoyed.

“Suffice it to know that I learned you had returned from Vannes, and I sent off to one of our friends, M. le Comte de la Fère, who is discretion itself, in order to ascertain it, but he answered that he was not aware of your address.”

So like Athos, thought the bishop; the really good man never changes.

“Well, then, you know that I cannot venture to show myself here, and that the queen-mother has always some grievance or other against me.”

“Yes, indeed, and I am surprised at it.”

“Oh! there are various reasons for it. But, to continue, being obliged to conceal myself, I was fortunate enough to meet with M. d’Artagnan, who was formerly one of your old friends, I believe?”

“A friend of mine still, duchesse.”

“He gave me certain information, and sent me to M. Baisemeaux, the governor of the Bastille.”

Aramis was somewhat agitated at this remark, and a light flashed from his eyes in the darkness of the room, which he could not conceal from his keen-sighted friend. “M. de Baisemeaux!” he said, “why did d’Artagnan send you to M. de Baisemeaux?”

“I cannot tell you.”

What can this possibly mean? said the bishop, summoning all the resources of his mind to his aid, in order to carry on the combat in a befitting manner.

“M. de Baisemeaux is greatly indebted to you, d’Artagnan told me.”

“True, he is so.”

“And the address of a creditor is as easily ascertained as that of a debtor.”

“Very true; and so Baisemeaux indicated to you⁠—”

“Saint-Mandé, where I forwarded a letter to you.”

“Which I have in my hand, and which is most precious to me,” said Aramis, “because I am indebted to it for the pleasure of seeing you here.” The duchesse, satisfied at having successfully overcome the various difficulties of so delicate an explanation, began to breathe freely again, which Aramis, however, could not succeed in doing. “We had got as far as your visit to M. Baisemeaux, I believe?”

“Nay,” she said, laughing, “farther than that.”

“In that case we must have been speaking about the grudge you have against the queen-mother.”

“Further still,” she returned, “further still; we were talking of the connection⁠—”

“Which existed between you and the Franciscan,” said Aramis, interrupting her eagerly, “well, I am listening to you very attentively.”

“It is easily explained,” returned the duchesse. “You know that I am living at Brussels with M. de Laicques?”

“I heard so.”

“You know that my children have ruined and stripped me of everything.”

“How terrible, dear duchesse.”

“Terrible indeed; this obliged me to resort to some means of obtaining a livelihood, and, particularly, to avoid vegetating for the remainder of my existence. I had old hatreds to turn to account, old friendships to make use of; I no longer had either credit or protectors.”

You, who had extended protection towards so many persons,” said Aramis, softly.

“It is always the case, chevalier. Well, at the present time I am in the habit of seeing the king of Spain very frequently.”

“Ah!”

“Who has just nominated a general of the Jesuits, according to the usual custom.”

“Is it usual, indeed?”

“Were you not aware of it?”

“I beg your pardon; I was inattentive.”

“You must be aware of that⁠—you who were on such good terms with the Franciscan.”

“With the general of the Jesuits, you mean?”

“Exactly. Well, then, I have seen the king of Spain, who wished to do me a service, but was unable. He gave me recommendations, however, to Flanders, both for myself and for Laicques too; and conferred a pension on me out of the funds belonging to the order.”

“Of Jesuits?”

“Yes. The general⁠—I mean the Franciscan⁠—was sent to me; and, for the purpose of conforming with the requisitions of the statues of the order, and of entitling me to the pension, I was reputed to be in a position to render certain services. You are aware that that is the rule?”

“No, I did not know it,” said Aramis.

Madame de Chevreuse paused to look at Aramis, but it was perfectly dark. “Well, such is the rule, however,” she resumed. “I had, therefore, to appear to possess a power of usefulness of some kind or other, and I proposed to travel for the order, and I was placed on the list of affiliated travelers. You understand it was a formality, by means of which I received my pension, which was very convenient for me.”

“Good heavens! duchesse, what you tell me is like a dagger-thrust. You obliged to receive a pension from the Jesuits?”

“No, chevalier! from Spain.”

“Except for a conscientious scruple, duchesse, you will admit that it is pretty nearly the same thing.”

“No, not at all.”

“But surely of your magnificent fortune there must remain⁠—”

“Dampierre is all that remains.”

“And that is handsome enough.”

“Yes; but Dampierre is burdened, mortgaged, and almost fallen to ruin, like its owner.”

“And can the queen-mother know and see all that, without shedding a tear?” said Aramis, with a penetrating look, which encountered nothing but darkness.

“Yes. She has forgotten everything.”

“You, I believe, attempted to get restored to favor?”

“Yes; but, most singularly, the young king inherits the antipathy his dear father had for me. You will, perhaps, tell me that I am indeed a woman to be hated, and that I am no longer one who can be loved.”

“Dear duchesse, pray come quickly to the cause that brought you here; for I think we can be of service to each other.”

“Such has been my own thought. I came to Fontainebleau with a double object in view. In the first place, I was summoned there by the Franciscan whom you knew. By the by, how did you know him?⁠—for I have told you my story, and have not yet heard yours.”

“I knew him in a very natural way, duchesse. I studied theology with him at Parma. We became fast friends; and it happened, from time to time, that business, or travel, or war, separated us from each other.”

“You were, of course, aware that he was the general of the Jesuits?”

“I suspected it.”

“But by what extraordinary chance did it happen that you were at the hotel when the affiliated travelers met together?”

“Oh!” said Aramis, in a calm voice, “it was the merest chance in the world. I was going to Fontainebleau to see M. Fouquet, for the purpose of obtaining an audience of the king. I was passing by, unknown; I saw the poor dying monk in the road, and recognized him immediately. You know the rest⁠—he died in my arms.”

“Yes; but bequeathing to you so vast a power that you issue your sovereign orders and directions like a monarch.”

“He certainly did leave me a few commissions to settle.”

“And what for me?”

“I have told you⁠—a sum of twelve thousand livres was to be paid to you. I thought I had given you the necessary signature to enable you to receive it. Did you not get the money?”

“Oh! yes, yes. You give your orders, I am informed, with so much mystery, and such a majestic presence, that it is generally believed you are the successor of the defunct chief.”

Aramis colored impatiently, and the duchesse continued: “I have obtained my information,” she said, “from the king of Spain himself; and he cleared up some of my doubts on the point. Every general of the Jesuits is nominated by him, and must be a Spaniard, according to the statutes of the order. You are not a Spaniard, nor have you been nominated by the king of Spain.”

Aramis did not reply to this remark, except to say, “You see, duchesse, how greatly you were mistaken, since the king of Spain told you that.”

“Yes, my dear Aramis; but there was something else which I have been thinking of.”

“What is that?”

“You know, I believe, something about most things, and it occurred to me that you know the Spanish language.”

“Every Frenchman who has been actively engaged in the Fronde knows Spanish.”

“You have lived in Flanders?”

“Three years.”

“And have stayed at Madrid?”

“Fifteen months.”

“You are in a position, then, to become a naturalized Spaniard, when you like.”

“Really?” said Aramis, with a frankness which deceived the duchesse.

“Undoubtedly. Two years’ residence and an acquaintance with the language are indispensable. You have upwards of four years⁠—more than double the time necessary.”

“What are you driving at, duchesse?”

“At this⁠—I am on good terms with the king of Spain.”

And I am not on bad terms, thought Aramis to himself.

“Shall I ask the king,” continued the duchesse, “to confer the succession to the Franciscan’s post upon you?”

“Oh, duchesse!”

“You have it already, perhaps?” she said.

“No, upon my honor.”

“Very well, then, I can render you that service.”

“Why did you not render the same service to M. de Laicques, duchesse? He is a very talented man, and one you love, besides.”

“Yes, no doubt; but, at all events, putting Laicques aside, will you have it?”

“No, I thank you, duchesse.”

She paused. He is nominated, she thought; and then resumed aloud, “If you refuse me in this manner, it is not very encouraging for me, supposing I should have something to ask of you.”

“Oh! ask, pray ask.”

“Ask! I cannot do so, if you have not the power to grant what I want.”

“However limited my power and ability, ask all the same.”

“I need a sum of money, to restore Dampierre.”

“Ah!” replied Aramis, coldly⁠—“money? Well, duchesse, how much would you require?”

“Oh! a tolerably round sum.”

“So much the worse⁠—you know I am not rich.”

“No, no; but the order is⁠—and if you had been the general⁠—”

“You know I am not the general, I think.”

“In that case, you have a friend who must be very wealthy⁠—M. Fouquet.”

“M. Fouquet! He is more than half ruined, Madame.”

“So it is said, but I did not believe it.”

“Why, duchesse?”

“Because I have, or rather Laicques has, certain letters in his possession from Cardinal Mazarin, which establish the existence of very strange accounts.”

“What accounts?”

“Relative to various sums of money borrowed and disposed of. I cannot very distinctly remember what they are; but they establish the fact that the superintendent, according to these letters, which are signed by Mazarin, had taken thirteen millions of francs from the coffers of the state. The case is a very serious one.”

Aramis clenched his hands in anxiety and apprehension. “Is it possible,” he said, “that you have such letters as you speak of, and have not communicated them to M. Fouquet?”

“Ah!” replied the duchesse, “I keep such trifling matters as these in reserve. The day may come when they will be of service; and they can be withdrawn from the safe custody in which they now remain.”

“And that day has arrived?” said Aramis.

“Yes.”

“And you are going to show those letters to M. Fouquet?”

“I prefer to talk about them with you, instead.”

“You must be in sad want of money, my poor friend, to think of such things as these⁠—you, too, who held M. de Mazarin’s prose effusions in such indifferent esteem.”

“The fact is, I am in want of money.”

“And then,” continued Aramis, in cold accents, “it must have been very distressing to you to be obliged to have recourse to such a means. It is cruel.”

“Oh! if had wished to do harm instead of good,” said Madame de Chevreuse, “instead of asking the general of the order, or M. Fouquet, for the five hundred thousand francs I require, I⁠—”

Five hundred thousand francs!

“Yes; no more. Do you think it much? I require at least as much as that to restore Dampierre.”

“Yes, Madame.”

“I say, therefore, that instead of asking for this amount, I should have gone to see my old friend the queen-mother; the letters from her husband, Signor Mazarini, would have served me as an introduction, and I should have begged this mere trifle of her, saying to her, ‘I wish, Madame, to have the honor of receiving you at Dampierre. Permit me to put Dampierre in a fit state for that purpose.’ ”

Aramis did not return a single word. “Well,” she said, “what are you thinking about?”

“I am making certain additions,” said Aramis.

“And M. Fouquet subtractions. I, on the other hand, am trying my hand at the art of multiplication. What excellent calculators we all three are! How well we might understand one another!”

“Will you allow me to reflect?” said Aramis.

“No, for with such an opening between people like ourselves, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is the only answer, and that an immediate one.”

It is a snare, thought the bishop; it is impossible that Anne of Austria would listen to such a woman as this.

“Well?” said the duchesse.

“Well, Madame, I should be very much astonished if M. Fouquet had five hundred thousand francs at his disposal at the present moment.”

“It is no use speaking of it, then,” said the duchesse, “and Dampierre must get restored how best it may.”

“Oh! you are not embarrassed to such an extent as that, I suppose.”

“No; I am never embarrassed.”

“And the queen,” continued the bishop, “will certainly do for you what the superintendent is unable to do?”

“Oh! certainly. But tell me, do you think it would be better that I should speak, myself, to M. Fouquet about these letters?”

“Nay, duchesse, you will do precisely whatever you please in that respect. M. Fouquet either feels or does not feel himself to be guilty; if he really be so, I know he is proud enough not to confess it; if he be not so, he will be exceedingly offended at your menace.”

“As usual, you reason like an angel,” said the duchesse, as she rose from her seat.

“And so, you are now going to denounce M. Fouquet to the queen,” said Aramis.

“ ‘Denounce!’ Oh! what a disagreeable word. I shall not ‘denounce’ my dear friend; you know matters of policy too well to be ignorant how easily these affairs are arranged. I shall merely side against M. Fouquet, and nothing more; and, in a war of party against party, a weapon is always a weapon.”

“No doubt.”

“And once on friendly terms again with the queen-mother, I may be dangerous towards some persons.”

“You are at liberty to prove so, duchesse.”

“A liberty of which I shall avail myself.”

“You are not ignorant, I suppose, duchesse, that M. Fouquet is on the best terms with the king of Spain.”

“I suppose so.”

“If, therefore, you begin a party warfare against M. Fouquet, he will reply in the same way; for he, too, is at perfect liberty to do so, is he not?”

“Oh! certainly.”

“And as he is on good terms with Spain, he will make use of that friendship as a weapon of attack.”

“You mean, that he is, naturally, on good terms with the general of the order of the Jesuits, my dear Aramis.”

“That may be the case, duchesse.”

“And that, consequently, the pension I have been receiving from the order will be stopped.”

“I am greatly afraid it might be.”

“Well; I must contrive to console myself in the best way I can; for after Richelieu, after the Fronde, after exile, what is there left for Madame de Chevreuse to be afraid of?”

“The pension, you are aware, is forty-eight thousand francs.”

“Alas! I am quite aware of it.”

“Moreover, in party contests, you know, the friends of one’s enemy do not escape.”

“Ah! you mean that poor Laicques will have to suffer.”

“I am afraid it is almost inevitable, duchesse.”

“Oh! he only receives twelve thousand francs pension.”

“Yes, but the king of Spain has some influence left; advised by M. Fouquet, he might get M. Laicques shut up in prison for a little while.”

“I am not very nervous on that point, my dear friend; because, once reconciled with Anne of Austria, I will undertake that France would insist upon M. Laicques’s liberation.”

“True. In that case, you will have something else to apprehend.”

“What can that be?” said the duchesse, pretending to be surprised and terrified.

“You will learn; indeed, you must know it already, that having once been an affiliated member of the order, it is not easy to leave it; for the secrets that any particular member may have acquired are unwholesome, and carry with them the germs of misfortune for whosoever may reveal them.”

The duchesse paused and reflected for a moment, and then said, “That is more serious: I will think it over.”

And notwithstanding the profound obscurity, Aramis seemed to feel a basilisk glance, like a white-hot iron, escape from his friend’s eyes, and plunge into his heart.

“Let us recapitulate,” said Aramis, determined to keep himself on his guard, and gliding his hand into his breast where he had a dagger concealed.

“Exactly, let us recapitulate; short accounts make long friends.”

“The suppression of your pension⁠—”

“Forty-eight thousand francs, and that of Laicques’s twelve, make together sixty thousand francs; that is what you mean, I suppose?”

“Precisely; and I was trying to find out what would be your equivalent for that.”

“Five hundred thousand francs, which I shall get from the queen.”

“Or, which you will not get.”

“I know a means of procuring them,” said the duchesse, thoughtlessly.

This remark made the chevalier prick up his ears; and from the moment his adversary had committed this error, his mind was so thoroughly on its guard, that he seemed every moment to gain the advantage more and more; and she, consequently, to lose it. “I will admit, for argument’s sake, that you obtain the money,” he resumed; “you will lose twice as much, having a hundred thousand francs’ pension to receive instead of sixty thousand, and that for a period of ten years.”

“Not so, for I shall only be subjected to this reduction of my income during the period of M. Fouquet’s remaining in power, a period which I estimate at two months.”

“Ah!” said Aramis.

“I am frank, you see.”

“I thank you for it, duchesse; but you would be wrong to suppose that after M. Fouquet’s disgrace the order would resume the payment of your pension.”

“I know a means of making the order pay, as I know a means of forcing the queen-mother to concede what I require.”

“In that case, duchesse, we are all obliged to strike our flags to you. The victory is yours, and the triumph also. Be clement, I entreat you.”

“But is it possible,” resumed the duchesse, without taking notice of the irony, “that you really draw back from a miserable sum of five hundred thousand francs, when it is a question of sparing you⁠—I mean your friend⁠—I beg your pardon, I ought rather to say your protector⁠—the disagreeable consequences which a party contest produces?”

“Duchesse, I tell you why; supposing the five hundred thousand francs were to be given you, M. Laicques will require his share, which will be another five hundred thousand francs, I presume? and then, after M. de Laicques’s and your own portions have been arranged, the portions which your children, your poor pensioners, and various other persons will require, will start up as fresh claims, and these letters, however compromising they may be in their nature, are not worth from three to four millions. Can you have forgotten the queen of France’s diamonds?⁠—they were surely worth more than these bits of waste paper signed by Mazarin, and yet their recovery did not cost a fourth part of what you ask for yourself.”

“Yes, that is true; but the merchant values his goods at his own price, and it is for the purchaser to buy or refuse.”

“Stay a moment, duchesse; would you like me to tell you why I will not buy your letters?”

“Pray tell me.”

“Because the letters you claim to be Mazarin’s are false.”

“What an absurdity.”

“I have no doubt of it, for it would, to say the least, be very singular, that after you had quarreled with the queen through M. Mazarin’s means, you should have kept up any intimate acquaintance with the latter; it would look as if you had been acting as a spy; and upon my word, I do not like to make use of the word.”

“Oh! pray do.”

“You great complacence would seem suspicions, at all events.”

“That is quite true; but the contents of the letters are even more so.”

“I pledge you my word, duchesse, that you will not be able to make use of it with the queen.”

“Oh! yes, indeed; I can make use of everything with the queen.”

Very good, thought Aramis. Croak on, old owl⁠—hiss, beldame-viper.

But the duchesse had said enough, and advanced a few steps towards the door. Aramis, however, had reserved one exposure which she did not expect.

He rang the bell, candles immediately appeared in the adjoining room, and the bishop found himself completely encircled by lights, which shone upon the worn, haggard face of the duchesse, revealing every feature but too clearly. Aramis fixed a long ironical look upon her pale, thin, withered cheeks⁠—her dim, dull eyes⁠—and upon her lips, which she kept carefully closed over her discolored scanty teeth. He, however, had thrown himself into a graceful attitude, with his haughty and intelligent head thrown back; he smiled so as to reveal teeth still brilliant and dazzling. The antiquated coquette understood the trick that had been played her. She was standing immediately before a large mirror, in which her decrepitude, so carefully concealed, was only made more manifest. And, thereupon, without even saluting Aramis, who bowed with the ease and grace of the musketeer of early days, she hurried away with trembling steps, which her very precipitation only the more impeded. Aramis sprang across the room, like a zephyr, to lead her to the door. Madame de Chevreuse made a sign to her servant, who resumed his musket, and she left the house where such tender friends had not been able to understand each other only because they had understood each other too well.

CHAPTER 2

Wherein May Be Seen That a Bargain Which Cannot Be Made with One Person, Can Be Carried Out with Another
Aramis had been perfectly correct in his supposition; for hardly had she left the house in the Place Baudoyer than Madame de Chevreuse proceeded homeward. She was doubtless afraid of being followed, and by this means thought she might succeed in throwing those who might be following her off their guard; but scarcely had she arrived within the door of the hotel, and hardly had assured herself that no one who could cause her any uneasiness was on her track, when she opened the door of the garden, leading into another street, and hurried towards the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs, where M. Colbert resided.

We have already said that evening, or rather night, had closed in; it was a dark, thick night, besides; Paris had once more sunk into its calm, quiescent state, enshrouding alike within its indulgent mantle the highborn duchesse carrying out her political intrigue, and the simple citizen’s wife, who, having been detained late by a supper in the city, was making her way slowly homewards, hanging on the arm of a lover, by the shortest possible route. Madame de Chevreuse had been too well accustomed to nocturnal political intrigues to be ignorant that a minister never denies himself, even at his own private residence, to any young and beautiful woman who may chance to object to the dust and confusion of a public office, or to old women, as full of experience as of years, who dislike the indiscreet echo of official residences. A valet received the duchesse under the peristyle, and received her, it must be admitted, with some indifference of manner; he intimated, after having looked at her face, that it was hardly at such an hour that one so advanced in years as herself could be permitted to disturb Monsieur Colbert’s important occupations. But Madame de Chevreuse, without looking or appearing to be annoyed, wrote her name upon a leaf of her tablets⁠—a name which had but too frequently sounded so disagreeably in the ears of Louis XIII and of the great cardinal. She wrote her name in the large, ill-formed characters of the higher classes of that period, folded the paper in a manner peculiarly her own, handed it to the valet, without uttering a word, but with so haughty and imperious a gesture, that the fellow, well accustomed to judge of people from their manners and appearance, perceived at once the quality of the person before him, bowed his head, and ran to M. Colbert’s room. The minister could not control a sudden exclamation as he opened the paper; and the valet, gathering from it the interest with which his master regarded the mysterious visitor, returned as fast as he could to beg the duchesse to follow him. She ascended to the first floor of the beautiful new house very slowly, rested herself on the landing-place, in order not to enter the apartment out of breath, and appeared before M. Colbert, who, with his own hands, held both the folding doors open. The duchesse paused at the threshold, for the purpose of well studying the character of the man with whom she was about to converse. At the first glance, the round, large, heavy head, thick brows, and ill-favored features of Colbert, who wore, thrust low down on his head, a cap like a priest’s calotte, seemed to indicate that but little difficulty was likely to be met with in her negotiations with him, but also that she was to expect as little interest in the discussion of particulars; for there was scarcely any indication that the rough and uncouth nature of the man was susceptible to the impulses of a refined revenge, or of an exalted ambition. But when, on closer inspection, the duchesse perceived the small, piercingly black eyes, the longitudinal wrinkles of his high and massive forehead, the imperceptible twitching of the lips, on which were apparent traces of rough good-humor, Madame de Chevreuse altered her opinion of him, and felt she could say to herself: I have found the man I want.

“What is the subject, Madame, which procures me the honor of a visit from you?” he inquired.

“The need I have of you, Monsieur,” returned the duchesse, “as well as that which you have of me.”

“I am delighted, Madame, with the first portion of your sentence; but, as far as the second portion is concerned⁠—”

Madame de Chevreuse sat down in the armchair which M. Colbert advanced towards her. “Monsieur Colbert, you are the intendant of finances, and are ambitious of becoming the superintendent?”

“Madame!”

“Nay, do not deny it; that would only unnecessarily prolong our conversation, and that is useless.”

“And yet, Madame, however well-disposed and inclined to show politeness I may be towards a lady of your position and merit, nothing will make me confess that I have ever entertained the idea of supplanting my superior.”

“I said nothing about supplanting, Monsieur Colbert. Could I accidentally have made use of that word? I hardly think that likely. The word ‘replace’ is less aggressive in its signification, and more grammatically suitable, as M. de Voiture would say. I presume, therefore, that you are ambitious of replacing M. Fouquet.”

“M. Fouquet’s fortune, Madame, enables him to withstand all attempts. The superintendent in this age plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; the vessels pass beneath him and do not overthrow him.”

“I ought to have availed myself precisely of that very comparison. It is true, M. Fouquet plays the part of the Colossus of Rhodes; but I remember to have heard it said by M. Conrart, a member of the academy, I believe, that when the Colossus of Rhodes fell from its lofty position, the merchant who had cast it down⁠—a merchant, nothing more, M. Colbert⁠—loaded four hundred camels with the ruins. A merchant! and that is considerably less than an intendant of finances.”

“Madame, I can assure you that I shall never overthrow M. Fouquet.”

“Very good, Monsieur Colbert, since you persist in showing so much sensitiveness with me, as if you were ignorant that I am Madame de Chevreuse, and also that I am somewhat advanced in years; in other words, that you have to do with a woman who has had political dealings with the Cardinal Richelieu, and who has no time to lose; as, I repeat, you do not hesitate to commit such an imprudence, I shall go and find others who are more intelligent and more desirous of making their fortunes.”

“How, Madame, how?”

“You give me a very poor idea of negotiations of the present day. I assure you that if, in my earlier days, a woman had gone to M. de Cinq-Mars, who was not, moreover, a man of a very high order of intellect, and had said to him about the cardinal what I have just said to you of M. Fouquet, M. de Cinq-Mars would by this time have already set actively to work.”

“Nay, Madame, show a little indulgence, I entreat you.”

“Well, then, do you really consent to replace M. Fouquet?”

“Certainly, I do, if the king dismisses M. Fouquet.”

“Again, a word too much; it is quite evident that, if you have not yet succeeded in driving M. Fouquet from his post, it is because you have not been able to do so. Therefore, I should be the greatest simpleton possible if, in coming to you, I did not bring the very thing you require.”

“I am distressed to be obliged to persist, Madame,” said Colbert, after a silence which enabled the duchesse to sound the depths of his dissimulation, “but I must warn you that, for the last six years, denunciation after denunciation has been made against M. Fouquet, and he has remained unshaken and unaffected by them.”

“There is a time for everything, Monsieur Colbert; those who were the authors of those denunciations were not called Madame de Chevreuse, and they had no proofs equal to the six letters from M. de Mazarin which establish the offense in question.”

“The offense!”

“The crime, if you like it better.”

“The crime! committed by M. Fouquet!”

“Nothing less. It is rather strange, M. Colbert, but your face, which just now was cold and indifferent, is now positively the very reverse.”

“A crime!”

“I am delighted to see that it makes an impression upon you.”

“It is because that word, Madame, embraces so many things.”

“It embraces the post of superintendent of finance for yourself, and a letter of exile, or the Bastille, for M. Fouquet.”

“Forgive me, Madame la Duchesse, but it is almost impossible that M. Fouquet can be exiled; to be imprisoned or disgraced, that is already a great deal.”

“Oh, I am perfectly aware of what I am saying,” returned Madame de Chevreuse, coldly. “I do not live at such a distance from Paris as not to know what takes place there. The king does not like M. Fouquet, and he would willingly sacrifice M. Fouquet if an opportunity were only given him.”

“It must be a good one, though.”

“Good enough, and one I estimate to be worth five hundred thousand francs.”

“In what way?” said Colbert.

“I mean, Monsieur, that holding this opportunity in my own hands, I will not allow it to be transferred to yours except for a sum of five hundred thousand francs.”

“I understand you perfectly, Madame. But since you have fixed a price for the sale, let me now see the value of the articles to be sold.”

“Oh, a mere trifle; six letters, as I have already told you, from M. de Mazarin; and the autographs will most assuredly not be regarded as too highly priced, if they establish, in an irrefutable manner, that M. Fouquet has embezzled large sums of money from the treasury and appropriated them to his own purposes.”

“In an irrefutable manner, do you say?” observed Colbert, whose eyes sparkled with delight.

“Perfectly so; would you like to read the letters?”

“With all my heart! Copies, of course?”

“Of course, the copies,” said the duchesse, as she drew from her bosom a small packet of papers flattened by her velvet bodice. “Read,” she said.

Colbert eagerly snatched the papers and devoured them. “Excellent!” he said.

“It is clear enough, is it not?”

“Yes, Madame, yes; M. Mazarin must have handed the money to M. Fouquet, who must have kept it for his own purposes; but the question is, what money?”

“Exactly⁠—what money; if we come to terms I will join to these six letters a seventh, which will supply you with the fullest particulars.”

Colbert reflected. “And the originals of these letters?”

“A useless question to ask; exactly as if I were to ask you, Monsieur Colbert, whether the moneybags you will give me will be full or empty.”

“Very good, Madame.”

“Is it concluded?”

“No; for there is one circumstance to which neither of us has given any attention.”

“Name it!”

“M. Fouquet can be utterly ruined, under the legal circumstances you have detailed, only by means of legal proceedings.”

“Well?”

“A public scandal, for instance; and yet neither the legal proceedings nor the scandal can be commenced against him.”

“Why not?”

“Because he is procureur-général of the parliament; because, too, in France, all public administrators, the army, justice itself, and commerce, are intimately connected by ties of good-fellowship, which people call esprit de corps. In such a case, Madame, the parliament will never permit its chief to be dragged before a public tribunal; and never, even if he be dragged there by royal authority, never, I say, will he be condemned.”

“Well, Monsieur Colbert, I do not see what I have to do with that.”

“I am aware of that, Madame; but I have to do with it, and it consequently diminishes the value of what you have brought to show me. What good can a proof of a crime be to me, without the possibility of obtaining a condemnation?”

“Even if he be only suspected, M. Fouquet will lose his post of superintendent.”

“Is that all?” exclaimed Colbert, whose dark, gloomy features were momentarily lighted up by an expression of hate and vengeance.

“Ah! ah! Monsieur Colbert,” said the duchesse, “forgive me, but I did not think you were so impressionable. Very good; in that case, since you need more than I have to give you, there is no occasion to speak of the matter at all.”

“Yes, Madame, we will go on talking of it; only, as the value of your commodities had decreased, you must lower your pretensions.”

“You are bargaining, then?”

“Every man who wishes to deal loyally is obliged to do so.”

“How much will you offer me?”

“Two hundred thousand francs,” said Colbert.

The duchesse laughed in his face, and then said, suddenly, “Wait a moment, I have another arrangement to propose; will you give me three hundred thousand francs?”

“No, no.”

“Oh, you can either accept or refuse my terms; besides, that is not all.”

“More still! you are becoming too impracticable to deal with, Madame.”

“Less so than you think, perhaps, for it is not money I am going to ask you for.”

“What is it, then?”

“A service; you know that I have always been most affectionately attached to the queen, and I am desirous of having an interview with Her Majesty.”

“With the queen?”

“Yes, Monsieur Colbert, with the queen, who is, I admit, no longer my friend, and who has ceased to be so for a long time past, but who may again become so if the opportunity be only given her.”

“Her Majesty has ceased to receive anyone, Madame. She is a great sufferer, and you may be aware that the paroxysms of her disease occur with greater frequency than ever.”

“That is the very reason why I wish to have an interview with Her Majesty; for in Flanders there is a great variety of these kinds of complaints.”

“What, cancers⁠—a fearful, incurable disorder?”

“Do not believe that, Monsieur Colbert. The Flemish peasant is somewhat a man of nature, and his companion for life is not alone a wife, but a female laborer also; for while he is smoking his pipe, the woman works: it is she who draws the water from the well; she who loads the mule or the ass, and even bears herself a portion of the burden. Taking but little care of herself, she gets knocked about first in one direction, and then in another, and very often is beaten by her husband, and cancers frequently rise from contusions.”

“True, true,” said Colbert.

“The Flemish women do not die the sooner on that account. When they are great sufferers from this disease they go in search of remedies, and the Béguines of Bruges are excellent doctors for every kind of disease. They have precious waters of one sort or another; specifics of various kinds; and they give a bottle of it and a wax candle to the sufferer, whereby the priests are gainers, and Heaven is served by the disposal of both their wares. I will take the queen some of this holy water, which I will procure from the Béguines of Bruges; Her Majesty will recover, and will burn as many wax candles as she may see fit. You see, Monsieur Colbert, to prevent my seeing the queen is almost as bad as committing the crime of regicide.”

“You are undoubtedly, Madame la Duchesse, a woman of exceedingly great abilities, and I am more than astounded at their display; still I cannot but suppose that this charitable consideration towards the queen in some measure covers a slight personal interest for yourself.”

“I have not given myself the trouble to conceal it, that I am aware of, Monsieur Colbert. You said, I believe, that I had a slight personal interest? On the contrary, it is a very great interest, and I will prove it to you, by resuming what I was saying. If you procure me a personal interview with Her Majesty, I will be satisfied with the three hundred thousand francs I have claimed; if not, I shall keep my letters, unless, indeed, you give me, on the spot, five hundred thousand francs.”

And rising from her seat with this decisive remark, the old duchesse plunged M. Colbert into a disagreeable perplexity. To bargain any further was out of the question; and not to bargain was to pay a great deal too dearly for them. “Madame,” he said, “I shall have the pleasure of handing over a hundred thousand crowns; but how shall I get the actual letters themselves?”

“In the simplest manner in the world, my dear Monsieur Colbert⁠—whom will you trust?”

The financier began to laugh, silently, so that his large eyebrows went up and down like the wings of a bat, upon the deep lines of his yellow forehead. “No one,” he said.

“You surely will make an exception in your own favor, Monsieur Colbert?”

“In what way, Madame?”

“I mean that, if you would take the trouble to accompany me to the place where the letters are, they would be delivered into your own hands, and you would be able to verify and check them.”

“Quite true.”

“You would bring the hundred thousand crowns with you at the same time, for I, too, do not trust anyone.”

Colbert colored to the tips of his ears. Like all eminent men in the art of figures, he was of an insolent and mathematical probity. “I will take with me, Madame,” he said, “two orders for the amount agreed upon, payable at my treasury. Will that satisfy you?”

“Would that the orders on your treasury were for two millions, Monsieur l’Intendant! I shall have the pleasure of showing you the way, then?”

“Allow me to order my carriage?”

“I have a carriage below, Monsieur.”

Colbert coughed like an irresolute man. He imagined, for a moment, that the proposition of the duchesse was a snare; that perhaps someone was waiting at the door; and that she whose secret had just been sold to Colbert for a hundred thousand crowns, had already offered it to Fouquet for the same sum. As he still hesitated, the duchesse looked at him full in the face.

“You prefer your own carriage?” she said.

“I admit I do.”

“You suppose I am going to lead you into a snare or trap of some sort or other?”

“Madame la Duchesse, you have the character of being somewhat inconsiderate at times, as I am reputed a sober, solemn character, a jest or practical joke might compromise me.”

“Yes; the fact is, you are afraid. Well, then, take your own carriage, as many servants as you like, only think well of what I am going to say. What we two may arrange between ourselves, we are the only persons who will know⁠—if a third person is present we might as well tell the whole world about it. After all, I do not make a point of it; my carriage shall follow yours, and I shall be satisfied to accompany you in your own carriage to the queen.”

“To the queen?”

“Have you forgotten that already? Is it possible that one of the clauses of the agreement of so much importance to me, can have escaped you so soon? How trifling it seems to you, indeed; if I had known it I should have asked double what I have done.”

“I have reflected, Madame, and I shall not accompany you.”

“Really⁠—and why not?”

“Because I have the most perfect confidence in you.”

“You overpower me. But⁠—provided I receive the hundred thousand crowns?”

“Here they are, Madame,” said Colbert, scribbling a few lines on a piece of paper, which he handed to the duchesse, adding, “You are paid.”

“The trait is a fine one, Monsieur Colbert, and I will reward you for it,” she said, beginning to laugh.

Madame de Chevreuse’s laugh was a very sinister sound; a man with youth, faith, love, life itself, throbbing in his heart, would prefer a sob to such a lamentable laugh. The duchesse opened the front of her dress and drew forth from her bosom, somewhat less white than it once had been, a small packet of papers, tied with a flame-colored ribbon, and, still laughing, she said, “There, Monsieur Colbert, are the originals of Cardinal Mazarin’s letters; they are now your own property,” she added, refastening the body of her dress; “your fortune is secured. And now accompany me to the queen.”

“No, Madame; if you are again about to run the chance of Her Majesty’s displeasure, and it were known at the Palais Royal that I had been the means of introducing you there, the queen would never forgive me while she lived. No; there are certain persons at the palace who are devoted to me, who will procure you an admission without my being compromised.”

“Just as you please, provided I enter.”

“What do you term those religious women at Bruges who cure disorders?”

“Béguines.”

“Good; are you one?”

“As you please⁠—but I must soon cease to be one.”

“That is your affair.”

“Excuse me, but I do not wish to be exposed to a refusal.”

“That is again your own affair, Madame. I am going to give directions to the head valet of the gentleman in waiting on the queen to allow admission to a Béguine, who brings an effectual remedy for Her Majesty’s sufferings. You are the bearer of my letter, you will undertake to be provided with the remedy, and will give every explanation on the subject. I admit a knowledge of a Béguine, but I deny all knowledge of Madame de Chevreuse. Here, Madame, then, is your letter of introduction.”

CHAPTER 3

The Skin of the Bear
Colbert handed the duchesse the letter, and gently drew aside the chair behind which she was standing; Madame de Chevreuse, with a very slight bow, immediately left the room. Colbert, who had recognized Mazarin’s handwriting, and had counted the letters, rang to summon his secretary, whom he enjoined to go in immediate search of M. Vanel, a counselor of the parliament. The secretary replied that, according to his usual practice, M. Vanel had just that moment entered the house, in order to give the intendant an account of the principal details of the business which had been transacted during the day in parliament. Colbert approached one of the lamps, read the letters of the deceased cardinal over again, smiled repeatedly as he recognized the great value of the papers Madame de Chevreuse had just delivered⁠—and burying his head in his hands for a few minutes, reflected profoundly. In the meantime, a tall, loosely-made man entered the room; his spare, thin face, steady look, and hooked nose, as he entered Colbert’s cabinet, with a modest assurance of manner, revealed a character at once supple and decided⁠—supple towards the master who could throw him the prey, firm towards the dogs who might possibly be disposed to dispute its possession. M. Vanel carried a voluminous bundle of papers under his arm, and placed it on the desk on which Colbert was leaning both his elbows, as he supported his head.

“Good day, M. Vanel,” said the latter, rousing himself from his meditation.

“Good day, Monseigneur,” said Vanel, naturally.

“You should say Monsieur, and not Monseigneur,” replied Colbert, gently.

“We give the title of Monseigneur to ministers,” returned Vanel, with extreme self-possession, “and you are a minister.”

“Not yet.”

“You are so in point of fact, and I call you Monseigneur accordingly; besides you are seigneur for me, and that is sufficient; if you dislike my calling you Monseigneur before others, allow me, at least, to call you so in private.”

Colbert raised his head as if to read, or try to read, upon Vanel’s face how much or how little sincerity entered into this protestation of devotion. But the counselor knew perfectly well how to sustain the weight of such a look, even backed with the full authority of the title he had conferred. Colbert sighed; he could not read anything in Vanel’s face, and Vanel might possibly be honest in his professions, but Colbert recollected that this man, inferior to himself in every other respect, was actually his master in virtue of the fact of his having a wife. As he was pitying this man’s lot, Vanel coldly drew from his pocket a perfumed letter, sealed with Spanish wax, and held it towards Colbert, saying, “A letter from my wife, Monseigneur.”

Colbert coughed, took, opened and read the letter, and then put it carefully away in his pocket, while Vanel turned over the leaves of the papers he had brought with him with an unmoved and unconcerned air. “Vanel,” he said suddenly to his protégé, “you are a hardworking man, I know; would twelve hours’ daily labor frighten you?”

“I work fifteen hours every day.”

“Impossible. A counselor need not work more than three hours a day in parliament.”

“Oh! I am working up some returns for a friend of mine in the department of accounts, and, as I still have spare time on my hands, I am studying Hebrew.”

“Your reputation stands high in the parliament, Vanel.”

“I believe so, Monseigneur.”

“You must not grow rusty in your post of counselor.”

“What must I do to avoid it?”

“Purchase a high place. Mean and low ambitions are very difficult to satisfy.”

“Small purses are the most difficult ones to fill, Monseigneur.”

“What post have you in view?” said Colbert.

“I see none⁠—not one.”

“There is one, certainly, but one need be almost the king himself to be able to buy it without inconvenience; and the king will not be inclined, I suppose, to purchase the post of procureur-général.”

At these words, Vanel fixed his peculiar, humble, dull look upon Colbert, who could hardly tell whether Vanel comprehended him or not. “Why do you speak to me, Monseigneur,” said Vanel, “of the post of procureur-général to the parliament; I know no other post than the one M. Fouquet fills.”

“Exactly so, my dear counselor.”

“You are not over fastidious, Monseigneur; but before the post can be bought, it must be offered for sale.”

“I believe, Monsieur Vanel, that it will be for sale before long.”

“For sale! What! M. Fouquet’s post of procureur-général?”

“So it is said.”

“The post which renders him so perfectly invincible, for sale! Ha, ha!” said Vanel, beginning to laugh.

“Would you be afraid, then, of the post?” said Colbert, gravely.

“Afraid! no; but⁠—”

“Are you desirous of obtaining it?”

“You are laughing at me, Monseigneur,” replied Vanel. “Is it likely that a counselor of the parliament would not be desirous of becoming procureur-général?”

“Well, Monsieur Vanel, since I tell you that the post, as report goes, will be shortly for sale⁠—”

“I cannot help repeating, Monseigneur, that it is impossible; a man never throws away the buckler, behind which he maintains his honor, his fortune, his very life.”

“There are certain men mad enough, Vanel, to fancy themselves out of the reach of all mischances.”

“Yes, Monseigneur; but such men never commit their mad acts for the advantage of the poor Vanels of the world.”

“Why not?”

“For the very reason that those Vanels are poor.”

“It is true that M. Fouquet’s post might cost a good round sum. What would you bid for it, Monsieur Vanel?”

“Everything I am worth.”

“Which means?”

“Three or four hundred thousand francs.”

“And the post is worth⁠—”

“A million and a half, at the very lowest. I know persons who have offered one million seven hundred thousand francs, without being able to persuade M. Fouquet to sell. Besides, supposing it were to happen that M. Fouquet wished to sell, which I do not believe, in spite of what I have been told⁠—”

“Ah! you have heard something about it, then; who told you?”

“M. de Gourville, M. Pélisson, and others.”

“Very good; if, therefore, M. Fouquet did wish to sell⁠—”

“I could not buy it just yet, since the superintendent will only sell for ready money, and no one has a million and a half to put down at once.”

Colbert suddenly interrupted the counselor by an imperious gesture; he had begun to meditate. Observing his superior’s serious attitude, and his perseverance in continuing the conversation on this subject, Vanel awaited the solution without venturing to precipitate it.

“Explain to me the privileges which this post confers.”

“The right of impeaching every French subject who is not a prince of the blood; the right of quashing all proceedings taken against any Frenchman, who is neither king nor prince. The procureur-général is the king’s right hand to punish the guilty; the office is the means whereby also he can evade the administration of justice. M. Fouquet, therefore, would be able, by stirring up parliament, to maintain himself even against the king; and the king could as easily, by humoring M. Fouquet, get his edicts registered in spite of every opposition and objection. The procureur-général can be made a very useful or a very dangerous instrument.”

“Vanel, would you like to be procureur-général?” said Colbert, suddenly, softening both his look and his voice.

“I!” exclaimed the latter; “I have already had the honor to represent to you that I want about eleven hundred thousand francs to make up the amount.”

“Borrow that sum from your friends.”

“I have no friends richer than myself.”

“You are an honest and honorable man, Vanel.”

“Ah! Monseigneur, if the world would only think as you do!”

“I think so, and that is quite enough; and if it should be needed, I will be your security.”

“Do not forget the proverb, Monseigneur.”

“What is it?”

“That he who becomes responsible for another has to pay for his fancy.”

“Let that make no difference.”

Vanel rose, bewildered by this offer which had been so suddenly and unexpectedly made to him. “You are not trifling with me, Monseigneur?” he said.

“Stay; you say that M. Gourville has spoken to you about M. Fouquet’s post?”

“Yes; and M. Pélisson, also.”

“Officially so, or only through their own suggestion?”

“These were their very words: ‘The parliament members are as proud as they are wealthy; they ought to club together two or three millions among themselves, to present to their protector and leader, M. Fouquet.’ ”

“And what did you reply?”

“I said that, for my own part, I would give ten thousand francs if necessary.”

“Ah! you like M. Fouquet, then!” exclaimed Colbert, with a look of hatred.

“No; but M. Fouquet is our chief. He is in debt⁠—is on the high road to ruin; and we ought to save the honor of the body of which we are members.”

“Exactly; and that explains why M. Fouquet will be always safe and sound, so long as he occupies his present post,” replied Colbert.

“Thereupon,” said Vanel, “M. Gourville added, ‘If we were to do anything out of charity to M. Fouquet, it could not be otherwise than most humiliating to him; and he would be sure to refuse it. Let the parliament subscribe among themselves to purchase, in a proper manner, the post of procureur-général; in that case, all would go well; the honor of our body would be saved, and M. Fouquet’s pride spared.’ ”

“That is an opening.”

“I considered it so, Monseigneur.”

“Well, Monsieur Vanel, you will go at once, and find out either M. Gourville or M. Pélisson. Do you know any other friend of M. Fouquet?”

“I know M. de La Fontaine very well.”

“La Fontaine, the rhymester?”

“Yes; he used to write verses to my wife, when M. Fouquet was one of our friends.”

“Go to him, then, and try and procure an interview with the superintendent.”

“Willingly⁠—but the sum itself?”

“On the day and hour you arrange to settle the matter, Monsieur Vanel, you shall be supplied with the money, so do not make yourself uneasy on that account.”

“Monseigneur, such munificence! You eclipse kings even⁠—you surpass M. Fouquet himself.”

“Stay a moment⁠—do not let us mistake each other: I do not make you a present of fourteen hundred thousand francs, Monsieur Vanel; for I have children to provide for⁠—but I will lend you that sum.”

“Ask whatever interest, whatever security you please, Monseigneur; I am quite ready. And when all your requisitions are satisfied, I will still repeat, that you surpass kings and M. Fouquet in munificence. What conditions do you impose?”

“The repayment in eight years, and a mortgage upon the appointment itself.”

“Certainly. Is that all?”

“Wait a moment. I reserve to myself the right of purchasing the post from you at one hundred and fifty thousand francs profit for yourself, if, in your mode of filling the office, you do not follow out a line of conduct in conformity with the interests of the king and with my projects.”

“Ah-h!” said Vanel, in an altered tone.

“Is there anything in that which can possibly be objectionable to you, Monsieur Vanel?” said Colbert, coldly.

“Oh! no, no,” replied Vanel, nervously.

“Very good. We will sign an agreement to that effect whenever you like. And now go as quickly as you can to M. Fouquet’s friend, obtain an interview with the superintendent; do not be too difficult in making whatever concessions may be required of you; and when once the arrangements are all made⁠—”

“I will press him to sign.”

“Be most careful to do nothing of the kind; do not speak of signatures with M. Fouquet, nor of deeds, nor even ask him to pass his word. Understand this: otherwise you will lose everything. All you have to do is to get M. Fouquet to give you his hand on the matter. Go, go.”

CHAPTER 4

An Interview with the Queen-Mother
The queen-mother was in the bedroom at the Palais Royal, with Madame de Motteville and Señora Molina. King Louis, who had been impatiently expected the whole day, had not made his appearance; and the queen, who was growing impatient, had often sent to inquire about him. The moral atmosphere of the court seemed to indicate an approaching storm; the courtiers and the ladies of the court avoided meeting in the antechambers and the corridors in order not to converse on compromising subjects. Monsieur had joined the king early in the morning for a hunting-party; Madame remained in her own apartment, cool and distant to everyone; and the queen-mother, after she had said her prayers in Latin, talked of domestic matters with her two friends in pure Castilian. Madame de Motteville, who understood the language perfectly, answered her in French. When the three ladies had exhausted every form of dissimulation and of politeness, as a circuitous mode of expressing that the king’s conduct was making the queen and the queen-mother pine away through sheer grief and vexation, and when, in the most guarded and polished phrases, they had fulminated every variety of imprecation against Mademoiselle de La Vallière, the queen-mother terminated her attack by an exclamation indicative of her own reflections and character. “Estos hijos!” said she to Molina⁠—which means, “These children!” words full of meaning on a mother’s lips⁠—words full of terrible significance in the mouth of a queen who, like Anne of Austria, hid many curious secrets in her soul.

“Yes,” said Molina, “children, children! for whom every mother becomes a sacrifice.”

“Yes,” replied the queen; “a mother sacrifices everything, certainly.” She did not finish her phrase; for she fancied, when she raised her eyes towards the full-length portrait of the pale Louis XIII, that light once more flashed from her husband’s dull eyes, and his nostrils grew livid with wrath. The portrait seemed animated by a living expression⁠—speak it did not, but it seemed to threaten. A profound silence succeeded the queen’s last remark. La Molina began to turn over ribbons and laces on a large worktable. Madame de Motteville, surprised at the look of mutual intelligence which had been exchanged between the confidant and her mistress, cast down her eyes like a discreet woman, and pretending to be observant of nothing that was passing, listened with the utmost attention to every word. She heard nothing, however, but a very insignificant “hum” on the part of the Spanish duenna, who was the incarnation of caution⁠—and a profound sigh on that of the queen. She looked up immediately.

“You are suffering?” she said.

“No, Motteville, no; why do you say that?”

“Your Majesty almost groaned just now.”

“You are right; I did sigh, in truth.”

“Monsieur Valot is not far off; I believe he is in Madame’s apartment.”

“Why is he with Madame?”

“Madame is troubled with nervous attacks.”

“A very fine disorder, indeed! There is little good in M. Valot being there, when a very different physician would quickly cure Madame.”

Madame de Motteville looked up with an air of great surprise, as she replied, “Another doctor instead of M. Valot?⁠—whom do you mean?”

“Occupation, Motteville, occupation. If anyone is really ill, it is my poor daughter.”

“And Your Majesty, too.”

“Less so this evening, though.”

“Do not believe that too confidently, Madame,” said de Motteville. And, as if to justify her caution, a sharp, acute pain seized the queen, who turned deadly pale, and threw herself back in the chair, with every symptom of a sudden fainting fit. Molina ran to a richly gilded tortoiseshell cabinet, from which she took a large rock-crystal bottle of scented salts, and held it to the queen’s nostrils, who inhaled it wildly for a few minutes, and murmured:

“It is hastening my death⁠—but Heaven’s will be done!”

“Your Majesty’s death is not so near at hand,” added Molina, replacing the smelling-bottle in the cabinet.

“Does Your Majesty feel better now?” inquired Madame de Motteville.

“Much better,” returned the queen, placing her finger on her lips, to impose silence on her favorite.

“It is very strange,” remarked Madame de Motteville, after a pause.

“What is strange?” said the queen.

“Does Your Majesty remember the day when this pain attacked you for the first time?”

“I remember only that it was a grievously sad day for me, Motteville.”

“But Your Majesty did not always regard that day as a sad one.”

“Why?”

“Because three and twenty years ago, on that very day, his present majesty, your own glorious son, was born at the very same hour.”

The queen uttered a loud cry, buried her face in her hands, and seemed utterly prostrated for some minutes; but whether from recollections which arose in her mind, or from reflection, or even with sheer pain, was doubtful. La Molina darted a look at Madame de Motteville, so full of bitter reproach, that the poor woman, perfectly ignorant of its meaning, was in her own exculpation on the point of asking an explanation, when, suddenly, Anne of Austria arose and said, “Yes, the 5th of September; my sorrow began on the 5th of September. The greatest joy, one day; the deepest sorrow the next;⁠—the sorrow,” she added, “the bitter expiation of a too excessive joy.”

And, from that moment, Anne of Austria, whose memory and reason seemed to be suspended for the time, remained impenetrable, with vacant look, mind almost wandering, and hands hanging heavily down, as if life had almost departed.

“We must put her to bed,” said La Molina.

“Presently, Molina.”

“Let us leave the queen alone,” added the Spanish attendant.

Madame de Motteville rose; large tears were rolling down the queen’s pallid face; and Molina, having observed this sign of weakness, fixed her black vigilant eyes upon her.

“Yes, yes,” replied the queen. “Leave us, Motteville; go.”

The word “us” produced a disagreeable effect upon the ears of the French favorite; for it signified that an interchange of secrets, or of revelations of the past, was about to be made, and that one person was de trop in the conversation which seemed likely to take place.

“Will Molina, alone, be sufficient for Your Majesty tonight?” inquired the French woman.

“Yes,” replied the queen. Madame de Motteville bowed in submission, and was about to withdraw, when suddenly an old female attendant, dressed as if she had belonged to the Spanish court of the year 1620, opened the door, and surprised the queen in her tears. “The remedy!” she cried, delightedly, to the queen, as she unceremoniously approached the group.

“What remedy?” said Anne of Austria.

“For Your Majesty’s sufferings,” the former replied.

“Who brings it?” asked Madame de Motteville, eagerly; “Monsieur Valot?”

“No; a lady from Flanders.”

“From Flanders? Is she Spanish?” inquired the queen.

“I don’t know.”

“Who sent her?”

“M. Colbert.”

“Her name?”

“She did not mention it.”

“Her position in life?”

“She will answer that herself.”

“Who is she?”

“She is masked.”

“Go, Molina; go and see!” cried the queen.

“It is needless,” suddenly replied a voice, at once firm and gentle in its tone, which proceeded from the other side of the tapestry hangings; a voice which made the attendants start, and the queen tremble excessively. At the same moment, a masked female appeared through the hangings, and, before the queen could speak a syllable she added, “I am connected with the order of the Béguines of Bruges, and do, indeed, bring with me the remedy which is certain to effect a cure of Your Majesty’s complaint.” No one uttered a sound, and the Béguine did not move a step.

“Speak,” said the queen.

“I will, when we are alone,” was the answer.

Anne of Austria looked at her attendants, who immediately withdrew. The Béguine, thereupon, advanced a few steps towards the queen, and bowed reverently before her. The queen gazed with increasing mistrust at this woman, who, in her turn, fixed a pair of brilliant eyes upon her, through her mask.

“The queen of France must, indeed, be very ill,” said Anne of Austria, “if it is known at the Béguinage of Bruges that she stands in need of being cured.”

“Your Majesty is not irremediably ill.”

“But tell me how you happen to know I am suffering?”

“Your Majesty has friends in Flanders.”

“Since these friends, then, sent you, mention their names.”

“Impossible, Madame, since Your Majesty’s memory has not been awakened by your heart.”

Anne of Austria looked up, endeavoring to discover through the mysterious mask, and this ambiguous language, the name of her companion, who expressed herself with such familiarity and freedom; then, suddenly, wearied by a curiosity which wounded every feeling of pride in her nature, she said, “You are ignorant, perhaps, that royal personages are never spoken to with the face masked.”

“Deign to excuse me, Madame,” replied the Béguine, humbly.

“I cannot excuse you. I may, possibly, forgive you, if you throw your mask aside.”

“I have made a vow, Madame, to attend and aid all afflicted and suffering persons, without ever permitting them to behold my face. I might have been able to administer some relief to your body and to your mind, too; but since Your Majesty forbids me, I will take my leave. Adieu, Madame, adieu!”

These words were uttered with a harmony of tone and respect of manner that disarmed the queen of all anger and suspicion, but did not remove her feeling of curiosity. “You are right,” she said; “it ill-becomes those who are suffering to reject the means of relief Heaven sends them. Speak, then; and may you, indeed, be able, as you assert, to administer relief to my body⁠—”

“Let us first speak a little of the mind, if you please,” said the Béguine⁠—“of the mind, which, I am sure, must also suffer.”

“My mind?”

“There are cancers so insidious in their nature that their very pulsations cannot be felt. Such cancers, Madame, leave the ivory whiteness of the skin unblemished, and putrefy not the firm, fair flesh, with their blue tints; the physician who bends over the patient’s chest hears not, though he listens, the insatiable teeth of the disease grinding onward through the muscles, and the blood flows freely on; the knife has never been able to destroy, and rarely, even temporarily, to disarm the rage of these mortal scourges⁠—their home is in the mind, which they corrupt⁠—they gnaw the whole heart until it breaks. Such, Madame, are the cancers fatal to queens; are you, too, free from their scourge?”

Anne slowly raised her arm, dazzling in its perfect whiteness, and pure in its rounded outlines as it was in the time of her earlier days.

“The evils to which you allude,” she said, “are the condition of the lives of the high in rank upon earth, to whom Heaven has imparted mind. When those evils become too heavy to be borne, Heaven lightens their burdens by penitence and confession. Thus, only, we lay down our burden and the secrets that oppress us. But, forget not that the same gracious Heaven, in its mercy, apportions to their trials the strength of the feeble creatures of its hand; and my strength has enabled me to bear my burden. For the secrets of others, the silence of Heaven is more than sufficient; for my own secrets, that of my confessor is enough.”

“You are as courageous, Madame, I see, as ever, against your enemies. You do not acknowledge your confidence in your friends?”

“Queens have no friends; if you have nothing further to say to me⁠—if you feel yourself inspired by Heaven as a prophetess⁠—leave me, I pray, for I dread the future.”

“I should have supposed,” said the Béguine, resolutely, “that you would rather have dreaded the past.”

Hardly had these words escaped her lips, than the queen rose up proudly. “Speak,” she cried, in a short, imperious tone of voice; “explain yourself briefly, quickly, entirely; or, if not⁠—”

“Nay, do not threaten me, Your Majesty,” said the Béguine, gently; “I came here to you full of compassion and respect. I came here on the part of a friend.”

“Prove that to me! Comfort, instead of irritating me.”

“Easily enough, and Your Majesty will see who is friendly to you. What misfortune has happened to Your Majesty during these three and twenty years past⁠—”

“Serious misfortunes, indeed; have I not lost the king?”

“I speak not of misfortunes of that kind. I wish to ask you, if, since the birth of the king, any indiscretion on a friend’s part has caused Your Majesty the slightest serious anxiety, or distress?”

“I do not understand you,” replied the queen, clenching her teeth in order to conceal her emotion.

“I will make myself understood, then. Your Majesty remembers that the king was born on the 5th of September, 1638, at a quarter past eleven o’clock.”

“Yes,” stammered out the queen.

“At half-past twelve,” continued the Béguine, “the dauphin, who had been baptized by Monseigneur de Meaux in the king’s and your own presence, was acknowledged as the heir of the crown of France. The king then went to the chapel of the old Château de Saint-Germain, to hear the Te Deum chanted.”

“Quite true, quite true,” murmured the queen.

“Your Majesty’s conferment took place in the presence of Monsieur, His Majesty’s late uncle, of the princes, and of the ladies attached to the court. The king’s physician, Bouvard, and Honoré, the surgeon, were stationed in the antechamber; Your Majesty slept from three o’clock until seven, I believe.”

“Yes, yes; but you tell me no more than everyone else knows as well as you and myself.”

“I am now, Madame, approaching that which very few persons are acquainted with. Very few persons, did I say, alas! I might say two only, for formerly there were but five in all, and, for many years past, the secret has been well preserved by the deaths of the principal participators in it. The late king sleeps now with his ancestors; Péronne, the midwife, soon followed him; Laporte is already forgotten.”

The queen opened her lips as though to reply; she felt, beneath her icy hand, with which she kept her face half concealed, the beads of perspiration on her brow.

“It was eight o’clock,” pursued the Béguine; “the king was seated at supper, full of joy and happiness; around him on all sides arose wild cries of delight and drinking of healths; the people cheered beneath the balconies; the Swiss guards, the Musketeers, and the Royal Guards wandered through the city, borne about in triumph by the drunken students. Those boisterous sounds of general joy disturbed the dauphin, the future king of France, who was quietly lying in the arms of Madame de Hausac, his nurse, and whose eyes, as he opened them, and stared about, might have observed two crowns at the foot of his cradle. Suddenly Your Majesty uttered a piercing cry, and Dame Péronne immediately flew to your bedside. The doctors were dining in a room at some distance from your chamber; the palace, deserted from the frequency of the irruptions made into it, was without either sentinels or guards. The midwife, having questioned and examined Your Majesty, gave a sudden exclamation as if in wild astonishment, and taking you in her arms, bewildered almost out of her senses from sheer distress of mind, dispatched Laporte to inform the king that Her Majesty the queen-mother wished to see him in her room. Laporte, you are aware, Madame, was a man of the most admirable calmness and presence of mind. He did not approach the king as if he were the bearer of alarming intelligence and wished to inspire the terror he himself experienced; besides, it was not a very terrifying intelligence which awaited the king. Therefore, Laporte appeared with a smile upon his lips, and approached the king’s chair, saying to him⁠—‘Sire, the queen is very happy, and would be still more so to see Your Majesty.’ On that day, Louis XIII would have given his crown away to the veriest beggar for a ‘God bless you.’ Animated, lighthearted, and full of gayety, the king rose from the table, and said to those around him, in a tone that Henry IV might have adopted⁠—‘Gentlemen, I am going to see my wife.’ He came to your beside, Madame, at the very moment Dame Péronne presented to him a second prince, as beautiful and healthy as the former, and said⁠—‘Sire, Heaven will not allow the kingdom of France to fall into the female line.’ The king, yielding to a first impulse, clasped the child in his arms, and cried, ‘Oh, Heaven, I thank Thee!’ ”

At this part of her recital, the Béguine paused, observing how intensely the queen was suffering; she had thrown herself back in her chair, and with her head bent forward and her eyes fixed, listened without seeming to hear, and her lips moving convulsively, either breathing a prayer to Heaven or imprecations on the woman standing before her.

“Ah! I do not believe that, if, because there could be but one dauphin in France,” exclaimed the Béguine, “the queen allowed that child to vegetate, banished from his royal parents’ presence, she was on that account an unfeeling mother. Oh, no, no; there are those alive who have known the floods of bitter tears she shed; there are those who have known and witnessed the passionate kisses she imprinted on that innocent creature in exchange for a life of misery and gloom to which state policy condemned the twin brother of Louis XIV.”

“Oh! Heaven!” murmured the queen feebly.

“It is admitted,” continued the Béguine, quickly, “that when the king perceived the effect which would result from the existence of two sons, equal in age and pretensions, he trembled for the welfare of France, for the tranquillity of the state; and it is equally well known that Cardinal de Richelieu, by the direction of Louis XIII, thought over the subject with deep attention, and after an hour’s meditation in His Majesty’s cabinet, he pronounced the following sentence:⁠—‘One prince means peace and safety for the state; two competitors, civil war and anarchy.’ ”

The queen rose suddenly from her seat, pale as death, and her hands clenched together:

“You know too much,” she said, in a hoarse, thick voice, “since you refer to secrets of state. As for the friends from whom you have acquired this secret, they are false and treacherous. You are their accomplice in the crime which is being now committed. Now, throw aside your mask, or I will have you arrested by my captain of the Guards. Do not think that this secret terrifies me! You have obtained it, you shall restore it to me. Never shall it leave your bosom, for neither your secret nor your own life belong to you from this moment.”

Anne of Austria, joining gesture to the threat, advanced a couple of steps towards the Béguine.

“Learn,” said the latter, “to know and value the fidelity, the honor, and secrecy of the friends you have abandoned.” And, then, suddenly she threw aside her mask.

“Madame de Chevreuse!” exclaimed the queen.

“With Your Majesty, the sole living confidante of the secret.”

“Ah!” murmured Anne of Austria; “come and embrace me, duchesse. Alas! you kill your friend in thus trifling with her terrible distress.”

And the queen, leaning her head upon the shoulder of the old duchesse, burst into a flood of bitter tears. “How young you are⁠—still!” said the latter, in a hollow voice; “you can weep!”

CHAPTER 5

Two Friends
The queen looked steadily at Madame de Chevreuse, and said: “I believe you just now made use of the word ‘happy’ in speaking of me. Hitherto, duchesse, I had thought it impossible that a human creature could anywhere be found more miserable than the queen of France.”

“Your afflictions, Madame, have indeed been terrible enough. But by the side of those great and grand misfortunes to which we, two old friends, separated by men’s malice, were just now alluding, you possess sources of pleasure, slight enough in themselves it may be, but greatly envied by the world.”

“What are they?” said Anne of Austria, bitterly. “What can induce you to pronounce the word ‘pleasure,’ duchesse⁠—you who, just now, admitted that my body and my mind both stood in need of remedies?”

Madame de Chevreuse collected herself for a moment, and then murmured, “How far removed kings are from other people!”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that they are so far removed from the vulgar herd that they forget that others often stand in need of the bare necessities of life. They are like the inhabitant of the African mountains, who, gazing from the verdant tableland, refreshed by the rills of melted snow, cannot comprehend that the dwellers in the plains below are perishing from hunger and thirst in the midst of the desert, burnt up by the heat of the sun.”

The queen colored, for she now began to perceive the drift of her friend’s remark. “It was very wrong,” she said, “to have neglected you.”

“Oh! Madame, I know the king has inherited the hatred his father bore me. The king would exile me if he knew I were in the Palais Royal.”

“I cannot say that the king is very well disposed towards you, duchesse,” replied the queen; “but I could⁠—secretly, you know⁠—”

The duchesse’s disdainful smile produced a feeling of uneasiness in the queen’s mind. “Duchesse,” she hastened to add, “you did perfectly right to come here, even were it only to give us the happiness of contradicting the report of your death.”

“Has it been rumored, then, that I was dead?”

“Everywhere.”

“And yet my children did not go into mourning.”

“Ah! you know, duchesse, the court is very frequently moving about from place to place; we see M. Albert de Luynes but seldom, and many things escape our minds in the midst of the preoccupations that constantly beset us.”

“Your Majesty ought not to have believed the report of my death.”

“Why not? Alas! we are all mortal; and you may perceive how rapidly I, your younger sister, as we used formerly to say, am approaching the tomb.”

“If Your Majesty believed me dead, you ought, in that case, to have been astonished not to have received the news.”

“Death not unfrequently takes us by surprise, duchesse.”

“Oh! Your Majesty, those who are burdened with secrets such as we have just now discussed must, as a necessity of their nature, satisfy their craving desire to divulge them, and they feel they must gratify that desire before they die. Among the various preparations for their final journey, the task of placing their papers in order is not omitted.”

The queen started.

“Your Majesty will be sure to learn, in a particular manner, the day of my death.”

“In what way?”

“Because Your Majesty will receive the next day, under several coverings, everything connected with our mysterious correspondence of former times.”

“Did you not burn them?” cried Anne, in alarm.

“Traitors only,” replied the duchesse, “destroy a royal correspondence.”

“Traitors, do you say?”

“Yes, certainly, or rather they pretend to destroy, instead of which they keep or sell it. Faithful friends, on the contrary, most carefully secrete such treasures, for it may happen that some day or other they would wish to seek out their queen in order to say to her: ‘Madame, I am getting old; my health is fast failing me; in the presence of the danger of death, for there is the risk for Your Majesty that this secret may be revealed, take, therefore, this paper, so fraught with menace for yourself, and trust not to another to burn it for you.’ ”

“What paper do you refer to?”

“As far as I am concerned, I have but one, it is true, but that is indeed most dangerous in its nature.”

“Oh! duchesse, tell me what it is.”

“A letter, dated Tuesday, the 2nd of August, 1644, in which you beg me to go to Noisy-le-Sec, to see that unhappy child. In your own handwriting, Madame, there are those words, ‘that unhappy child!’ ”

A profound silence ensued; the queen’s mind was busy in the past; Madame de Chevreuse was watching the progress of her scheme. “Yes, unhappy, most unhappy!” murmured Anne of Austria; “how sad the existence he led, poor child, to finish it in so cruel a manner.”

“Is he dead?” cried the duchesse suddenly, with a curiosity whose genuine accents the queen instinctively detected.

“He died of consumption, died forgotten, died withered and blighted like the flowers a lover has given to his mistress, which she leaves to die secreted in a drawer where she had hid them from the gaze of others.”

“Died!” repeated the duchesse with an air of discouragement, which would have afforded the queen the most unfeigned delight, had it not been tempered in some measure with a mixture of doubt⁠—“Died⁠—at Noisy-le-Sec?”

“Yes, in the arms of his tutor, a poor, honest man, who did not long survive him.”

“That can easily be understood; it is so difficult to bear up under the weight of such a loss and such a secret,” said Madame de Chevreuse⁠—the irony of which reflection the queen pretended not to perceive. Madame de Chevreuse continued: “Well, Madame, I inquired some years ago at Noisy-le-Sec about this unhappy child. I was told that it was not believed he was dead, and that was my reason for not having at first condoled with Your Majesty; for, most certainly, if I could have thought it were true, never should I have made the slightest allusion to so deplorable an event, and thus have reawakened Your Majesty’s most natural distress.”

“You say that it is not believed the child died at Noisy?”

“No, Madame.”

“What did they say about him, then?”

“They said⁠—but, no doubt, they were mistaken⁠—”

“Nay, speak, speak!”

“They said, that one evening, about the year 1645, a lady, beautiful and majestic in her bearing, which was observed notwithstanding the mask and the mantle that concealed her figure⁠—a lady of rank, of very high rank, no doubt⁠—came in a carriage to the place where the road branches off; the very same spot, you know, where I awaited news of the young prince when Your Majesty was graciously pleased to send me there.”

“Well, well?”

“That the boy’s tutor, or guardian, took the child to this lady.”

“Well, what next?”

“That both the child and his tutor left that part of the country the very next day.”

“There, you see there is some truth in what you relate, since, in point of fact, the poor child died from a sudden attack of illness, which makes the lives of all children, as doctors say, suspended as it were by a thread.”

“What Your Majesty says is quite true; no one knows it better than yourself⁠—no one believes it more strongly than myself. But yet, how strange it is⁠—”

What can it now be? thought the queen.

“The person who gave me these details, who was sent to inquire after the child’s health⁠—”

“Did you confide such a charge to anyone else? Oh, duchesse!”

“Someone as dumb as Your Majesty, as dumb as myself; we will suppose it was myself, Madame; this someone, some months after, passing through Touraine⁠—”

“Touraine!”

“Recognized both the tutor and the child, too! I am wrong, thought he recognized them, both living, cheerful, happy, and flourishing, the one in a green old age, the other in the flower of his youth. Judge after that what truth can be attributed to the rumors which are circulated, or what faith, after that, placed in anything that may happen in the world! But I am fatiguing Your Majesty; it was not my intention, however, to do so, and I will take my leave of you, after renewing to you the assurance of my most respectful devotion.”

“Stay, duchesse; let us first talk a little about yourself.”

“Of myself, Madame! I am not worthy that you should bend your looks upon me.”

“Why not, indeed? Are you not the oldest friend I have? Are you angry with me, duchesse?”

“I, indeed! what motive could I have? If I had reason to be angry with Your Majesty, should I have come here?”

“Duchesse, age is fast creeping on us both; we should be united against that death whose approach cannot be far off.”

“You overpower me, Madame, with the kindness of your language.”

“No one has ever loved or served me as you have done, duchesse.”

“Your Majesty is too kind in remembering it.”

“Not so. Give me a proof of your friendship, duchesse.”

“My whole being is devoted to you, Madame.”

“The proof I require is, that you should ask something of me.”

“Ask⁠—”

“Oh, I know you well⁠—no one is more disinterested, more noble, and truly loyal.”

“Do not praise me too highly, Madame,” said the duchesse, somewhat anxiously.

“I could never praise you as much as you deserve to be praised.”

“And yet, age and misfortune effect a terrible change in people, Madame.”

“So much the better; for the beautiful, the haughty, the adored duchesse of former days might have answered me ungratefully, ‘I do not wish for anything from you.’ Heaven be praised! The misfortunes you speak of have indeed worked a change in you, for you will now, perhaps, answer me, ‘I accept.’ ”

The duchesse’s look and smile soon changed at this conclusion, and she no longer attempted to act a false part.

“Speak, dearest, what do you want?”

“I must first explain to you⁠—”

“Do so unhesitatingly.”

“Well, then, Your Majesty can confer the greatest, the most ineffable pleasure upon me.”

“What is it?” said the queen, a little distant in her manner, from an uneasiness of feeling produced by this remark. “But do not forget, my good Chevreuse, that I am quite as much under my son’s influence as I was formerly under my husband’s.”

“I will not be too hard, Madame.”

“Call me as you used to do; it will be a sweet echo of our happy youth.”

“Well, then, my dear mistress, my darling Anne⁠—”

“Do you know Spanish, still?”

“Yes.”

“Ask me in Spanish, then.”

“Will Your Majesty do me the honor to pass a few days with me at Dampierre?”

“Is that all?” said the queen, stupefied. “Nothing more than that?”

“Good heavens! can you possibly imagine that, in asking you that, I am not asking you the greatest conceivable favor? If that really be the case, you do not know me. Will you accept?”

“Yes, gladly. And I shall be happy,” continued the queen, with some suspicion, “if my presence can in any way be useful to you.”

“Useful!” exclaimed the duchesse, laughing; “oh, no, no, agreeable⁠—delightful, if you like; and you promise me, then?”

“I swear it,” said the queen, whereupon the duchesse seized her beautiful hand, and covered it with kisses. The queen could not help murmuring to herself, “She is a good-hearted woman, and very generous, too.”

“Will Your Majesty consent to wait a fortnight before you come?”

“Certainly; but why?”

“Because,” said the duchesse, “knowing me to be in disgrace, no one would lend me the hundred thousand francs, which I require to put Dampierre into a state of repair. But when it is known that I require that sum for the purpose of receiving Your Majesty at Dampierre properly, all the money in Paris will be at my disposal.”

“Ah!” said the queen, gently nodding her head in sign of intelligence, “a hundred thousand francs! you want a hundred thousand francs to put Dampierre into repair?”

“Quite as much as that.”

“And no one will lend you them?”

“No one.”

“I will lend them to you, if you like, duchesse.”

“Oh, I hardly dare accept such a sum.”

“You would be wrong if you did not. Besides, a hundred thousand francs is really not much. I know but too well that you never set a right value upon your silence and secrecy. Push that table a little towards me, duchesse, and I will write you an order on M. Colbert; no, on M. Fouquet, who is a far more courteous and obliging man.”

“Will he pay it, though?”

“If he will not pay it, I will; but it will be the first time he will have refused me.”

The queen wrote and handed the duchesse the order, and afterwards dismissed her with a warm embrace.

CHAPTER 6

How Jean de La Fontaine Came to Write His First Tale
All these intrigues are exhausted; the human mind, so variously complicated, has been enabled to develop itself at its ease in the three outlines with which our recital has supplied it. It is not unlikely that, in the future we are now preparing, a question of politics and intrigues may still arise, but the springs by which they work will be so carefully concealed that no one will be able to see aught but flowers and paintings, just as at a theater, where a colossus appears upon the scene, walking along moved by the small legs and slender arms of a child concealed within the framework.

We now return to Saint-Mandé, where the superintendent was in the habit of receiving his select confederacy of epicureans. For some time past the host had met with nothing but trouble. Everyone in the house was aware of and felt for the minister’s distress. No more magnificent or recklessly improvident reunions. Money had been the pretext assigned by Fouquet, and never was any pretext, as Gourville said, more fallacious, for there was not even a shadow of money to be seen.

M. Vatel was resolutely painstaking in keeping up the reputation of the house, and yet the gardeners who supplied the kitchens complained of ruinous delays. The agents for the supply of Spanish wines sent drafts which no one honored; fishermen, whom the superintendent engaged on the coast of Normandy, calculated that if they were paid all that was due to them, the amount would enable them to retire comfortably for life; fish, which, at a later period, was the cause of Vatel’s death, did not arrive at all. However, on the ordinary reception days, Fouquet’s friends flocked in more numerously than ever. Gourville and the Abbé Fouquet talked over money matters⁠—that is to say, the abbé borrowed a few pistoles from Gourville; Pélisson, seated with his legs crossed, was engaged in finishing the peroration of a speech with which Fouquet was to open the parliament; and this speech was a masterpiece, because Pélisson wrote it for his friend⁠—that is to say, he inserted all kinds of clever things the latter would most certainly never have taken the trouble to say of his own accord. Presently Loret and La Fontaine would enter from the garden, engaged in a dispute about the art of making verses. The painters and musicians, in their turn, were hovering near the dining-room. As soon as eight o’clock struck the supper would be announced, for the superintendent never kept anyone waiting. It was already half-past seven, and the appetites of the guests were beginning to declare themselves in an emphatic manner. As soon as all the guests were assembled, Gourville went straight up to Pélisson, awoke him out of his reverie, and led him into the middle of a room, and closed the doors. “Well,” he said, “anything new?”

Pélisson raised his intelligent and gentle face, and said: “I have borrowed five and twenty thousand francs of my aunt, and I have them here in good sterling money.”

“Good,” replied Gourville; “we only what one hundred and ninety-five thousand livres for the first payment.”

“The payment of what?” asked La Fontaine.

“What! absentminded as usual! Why, it was you who told us the small estate at Corbeli was going to be sold by one of M. Fouquet’s creditors; and you, also, who proposed that all his friends should subscribe⁠—more than that, it was you who said that you would sell a corner of your house at Château-Thierry, in order to furnish your own proportion, and you come and ask⁠—‘The payment of what?’ ”

This remark was received with a general laugh, which made La Fontaine blush. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “I had not forgotten it; oh, no! only⁠—”

“Only you remembered nothing about it,” replied Loret.

“That is the truth, and the fact is, he is quite right, there is a great difference between forgetting and not remembering.”

“Well, then,” added Pélisson, “you bring your mite in the shape of the price of the piece of land you have sold?”

“Sold? no!”

“Have you not sold the field, then?” inquired Gourville, in astonishment, for he knew the poet’s disinterestedness.

“My wife would not let me,” replied the latter, at which there were fresh bursts of laughter.

“And yet you went to Château-Thierry for that purpose,” said someone.

“Certainly I did, and on horseback.”

“Poor fellow!”

“I had eight different horses, and I was almost bumped to death.”

“You are an excellent fellow! And you rested yourself when you arrived there?”

“Rested! Oh! of course I did, for I had an immense deal of work to do.”

“How so?”

“My wife had been flirting with the man to whom I wished to sell the land. The fellow drew back from his bargain, and so I challenged him.”

“Very good, and you fought?”

“It seems not.”

“You know nothing about it, I suppose?”

“No, my wife and her relations interfered in the matter. I was kept a quarter of an hour with my sword in my hand; but I was not wounded.”

“And your adversary?”

“Oh! he wasn’t wounded either, for he never came on the field.”

“Capital!” cried his friends from all sides, “you must have been terribly angry.”

“Exceedingly so; I caught cold; I returned home and then my wife began to quarrel with me.”

“In real earnest?”

“Yes, in real earnest. She threw a loaf of bread at my head, a large loaf.”

“And what did you do?”

“Oh! I upset the table over her and her guests; and then I got on my horse again, and here I am.”

Everyone had great difficulty in keeping his countenance at the exposure of this heroi-comedy, and when the laughter had subsided, one of the guests present said to La Fontaine: “Is that all you have brought back?”

“Oh, no! I have an excellent idea in my head.”

“What is it?”

“Have you noticed that there is a good deal of sportive, jesting poetry written in France?”

“Yes, of course,” replied everyone.

“And,” pursued La Fontaine, “only a very small portion of it is printed.”

“The laws are strict, you know.”

“That may be; but a rare article is a dear article, and that is the reason why I have written a small poem, excessively free in its style, very broad, and extremely cynical in its tone.”

“The deuce you have!”

“Yes,” continued the poet, with assumed indifference, “and I have introduced the greatest freedom of language I could possibly employ.”

Peals of laughter again broke forth, while the poet was thus announcing the quality of his wares. “And,” he continued, “I have tried to excel everything that Boccaccio, Arétin, and other masters of their craft have written in the same style.”

“Its fate is clear,” said Pélisson; “it will be suppressed and forbidden.”

“Do you think so?” said La Fontaine, simply. “I assure you I did not do it on my own account so much as M. Fouquet’s.”

This wonderful conclusion again raised the mirth of all present.

“And I have sold the first edition of this little book for eight hundred livres,” exclaimed La Fontaine, rubbing his hands together. “Serious and religions books sell at about half that rate.”

“It would have been better,” said Gourville, “to have written two religious books instead.”

“It would have been too long, and not amusing enough,” replied La Fontaine tranquilly; “my eight hundred livres are in this little bag, and I beg to offer them as my contribution.”

As he said this, he placed his offering in the hands of their treasurer; it was then Loret’s turn, who gave a hundred and fifty livres; the others stripped themselves in the same way; and the total sum in the purse amounted to forty thousand livres. The money was still being counted over when the superintendent noiselessly entered the room; he had heard everything; and then this man, who had possessed so many millions, who had exhausted all the pleasures and honors the world had to bestow, this generous heart, this inexhaustible brain, which had, like two burning crucibles, devoured the material and moral substance of the first kingdom in Europe, was seen to cross the threshold with tears in his eyes, and pass his fingers through the gold and silver which the bag contained.

“Poor offering,” he said, in a softened and affected tone of voice, “you will disappear into the smallest corner of my empty purse, but you have filled to overflowing that which no one can ever exhaust, my heart. Thank you, my friends⁠—thank you.” And as he could not embrace everyone present, who were all tearful, too, philosophers as they were, he embraced La Fontaine, saying to him, “Poor fellow! so you have, on my account, been beaten by your wife and censured by your confessor.”

“Oh! it is a mere nothing,” replied the poet; “if your creditors will only wait a couple of years, I shall have written a hundred other tales, which, at two editions each, will pay off the debt.”

CHAPTER 7

La Fontaine in the Character of a Negotiator
Fouquet pressed La Fontaine’s hand most warmly, saying to him, “My dear poet, write a hundred other tales, not only for the eighty pistoles which each of them will produce you, but, still more, to enrich our language with a hundred new masterpieces of composition.”

“Oh!” said La Fontaine, with a little air of pride, “you must not suppose that I have only brought this idea and the eighty pistoles to the superintendent.”

“Oh! indeed,” was the general acclamation from all parts of the room, “M. de La Fontaine is in funds today.”

“Exactly,” replied La Fontaine.

“Quick, quick!” cried the assembly.

“Take care,” said Pélisson in La Fontaine’s ear; “you have had a most brilliant success up to the present moment; do not go beyond your depth.”

“Not at all, Monsieur Pélisson; and you, who are a man of decided taste, will be the first to approve of what I have done.”

“We are talking of millions, remember,” said Gourville.

“I have fifteen hundred thousand francs here, Monsieur Gourville,” he replied, striking himself on the chest.

“The deuce take this Gascon from Château-Thierry!” cried Loret.

“It is not the pocket you must tap⁠—but the brain,” said Fouquet.

“Stay a moment, Monsieur le Surintendant,” added La Fontaine; “you are not procureur-général⁠—you are a poet.”

“True, true!” cried Loret, Conrart, and every person present connected with literature.

“You are, I repeat, a poet and a painter, a sculptor, a friend of the arts and sciences; but, acknowledge that you are no lawyer.”

“Oh! I do acknowledge it,” replied M. Fouquet, smiling.

“If you were to be nominated at the Academy, you would refuse, I think.”

“I think I should, with all due deference to the academicians.”

“Very good; if, therefore, you do not wish to belong to the Academy, why do you allow yourself to form one of the parliament?”

“Oh!” said Pélisson, “we are talking politics.”

“I wish to know whether the barrister’s gown does or does not become M. Fouquet.”

“There is no question of the gown at all,” retorted Pélisson, annoyed at the laughter of those who were present.

“On the contrary, it is the gown,” said Loret.

“Take the gown away from the procureur-général,” said Conrart, “and we have M. Fouquet left us still, of whom we have no reason to complain; but, as he is no procureur-général without his gown, we agree with M. de La Fontaine and pronounce the gown to be nothing but a bugbear.”

Fugiunt risus leporesque,” said Loret.

“The smiles and the graces,” said someone present.

“That is not the way,” said Pélisson, gravely, “that I translate lepores.”

“How do you translate it?” said La Fontaine.

“Thus: The hares run away as soon as they see M. Fouquet.” A burst of laughter, in which the superintendent joined, followed this sally.

“But why hares?” objected Conrart, vexed.

“Because the hare will be the very one who will not be over pleased to see M. Fouquet surrounded by all the attributes which his parliamentary strength and power confer on him.”

“Oh! oh!” murmured the poets.

Quo non ascendam,”[17] said Conrart, “seems impossible to me, when one is fortunate enough to wear the gown of the procureur-général.”

“On the contrary, it seems so to me without that gown,” said the obstinate Pélisson; “what is your opinion, Gourville?”

“I think the gown in question is a very good thing,” replied the latter; “but I equally think that a million and a half is far better than the gown.”

“And I am of Gourville’s opinion,” exclaimed Fouquet, stopping the discussion by the expression of his own opinion, which would necessarily bear down all the others.

“A million and a half,” Pélisson grumbled out; “now I happen to know an Indian fable⁠—”

“Tell it me,” said La Fontaine; “I ought to know it too.”

“Tell it, tell it,” said the others.

“There was a tortoise, which was, as usual, well protected by its shell,” said Pélisson; “whenever its enemies threatened it, it took refuge within its covering. One day someone said to it, ‘You must feel very hot in such a house as that in the summer, and you are altogether prevented showing off Your Graces; there is a snake here, who will give you a million and a half for your shell.’ ”

“Good!” said the superintendent, laughing.

“Well, what next?” said La Fontaine, more interested in the apologue than in the moral.

“The tortoise sold his shell and remained naked and defenseless. A vulture happened to see him, and being hungry, broke the tortoise’s back with a blow of his beak and devoured it. The moral is, that M. Fouquet should take very good care to keep his gown.”

La Fontaine understood the moral seriously. “You forget Aeschylus,” he said, to his adversary.

“What do you mean?”

“Aeschylus was bald-headed, and a vulture⁠—your vulture, probably⁠—who was a great amateur in tortoises, mistook at a distance his head for a block of stone, and let a tortoise, which was shrunk up in his shell, fall upon it.”

“Yes, yes, La Fontaine is right,” resumed Fouquet, who had become very thoughtful; “whenever a vulture wishes to devour a tortoise, he well knows how to break his shell; but happy is that tortoise a snake pays a million and a half for his envelope. If anyone were to bring me a generous-hearted snake like the one in your fable, Pélisson, I would give him my shell.”

Rara avis in terres![18] cried Conrart.

“And like a black swan, is he not?” added La Fontaine; “well, then, the bird in question, black and rare, is already found.”

“Do you mean to say that you have found a purchaser for my post of procureur-général?” exclaimed Fouquet.

“I have, Monsieur.”

“But the superintendent never said that he wished to sell,” resumed Pélisson.

“I beg your pardon,” said Conrart, “you yourself spoke about it, even⁠—”

“Yes, I am a witness to that,” said Gourville.

“He seems very tenacious about his brilliant idea,” said Fouquet, laughing. “Well, La Fontaine, who is the purchaser?”

“A perfect blackbird, for he is a counselor belonging to the parliament, an excellent fellow.”

“What is his name?”

“Vanel.”

“Vanel!” exclaimed Fouquet. “Vanel the husband of⁠—”

“Precisely, her husband; yes, Monsieur.”

“Poor fellow!” said Fouquet, with an expression of great interest.

“He wishes to be everything that you have been, Monsieur,” said Gourville, “and to do everything that you have done.”

“It is very agreeable; tell us all about it, La Fontaine.”

“It is very simple. I see him occasionally, and a short time ago I met him, walking about on the Place de la Bastille, at the very moment when I was about to take the small carriage to come down here to Saint-Mandé.”

“He must have been watching his wife,” interrupted Loret.

“Oh, no!” said La Fontaine, “he is far from being jealous. He accosted me, embraced me, and took me to the inn called L’Image Saint-Fiacre, and told me all about his troubles.”

“He has his troubles, then?”

“Yes; his wife wants to make him ambitious.”

“Well, and he told you⁠—”

“That someone had spoken to him about a post in parliament; that M. Fouquet’s name had been mentioned; that ever since, Madame Vanel dreams of nothing else than being called Madame la Procureur-Générale, and that it makes her ill and kills her every night she does not dream about it.”

“The deuce!”

“Poor woman!” said Fouquet.

“Wait a moment. Conrart is always telling me that I do not know how to conduct matters of business; you will see how I managed this one.”

“Well, go on.”

“ ‘I suppose you know,’ said I to Vanel, ‘that the value of a post such as that which M. Fouquet holds is by no means trifling.’

“ ‘How much do you imagine it to be?’ he said.

“ ‘M. Fouquet, I know, has refused seventeen hundred thousand francs.’

“ ‘My wife,’ replied Vanel, ‘had estimated it at about fourteen hundred thousand.’

“ ‘Ready money?’ I said.

“ ‘Yes; she has sold some property of hers in Guienne, and has received the purchase money.’ ”

“That’s a pretty sum to touch all at once,” said the Abbé Fouquet, who had not hitherto said a word.

“Poor Madame Vanel!” murmured Fouquet.

Pélisson shrugged his shoulders, as he whispered in Fouquet’s ear, “That woman is a perfect fiend.”

“That may be; and it will be delightful to make use of this fiend’s money to repair the injury which an angel has done herself for me.”

Pélisson looked with a surprised air at Fouquet, whose thoughts were from that moment fixed upon a fresh object in view.

“Well!” inquired La Fontaine, “what about my negotiation?”

“Admirable, my dear poet.”

“Yes,” said Gourville; “but there are some people who are anxious to have the steed who have not even money enough to pay for the bridle.”

“And Vanel would draw back from his offer if he were to be taken at his word,” continued the Abbé Fouquet.

“I do not believe it,” said La Fontaine.

“What do you know about it?”

“Why, you have not yet heard the denouement of my story.”

“If there is a denouement, why do you beat about the bush so much?”

Semper ad eventum.[19] Is that correct?” said Fouquet, with the air of a nobleman who condescends to barbarisms. To which the Latinists present answered with loud applause.

“My denouement,” cried La Fontaine, “is that Vanel, that determined blackbird, knowing that I was coming to Saint-Mandé, implored me to bring him with me, and, if possible, to present him to M. Fouquet.”

“So that⁠—”

“So that he is here; I left him in that part of the ground called Bel-Air. Well, M. Fouquet, what is your reply?”

“Well, it is not respectful towards Madame Vanel that her husband should run the risk of catching cold outside my house; send for him, La Fontaine, since you know where he is.”

“I will go myself.”

“And I will accompany you,” said the Abbé Fouquet; “I will carry the money bags.”

“No jesting,” said Fouquet, seriously; “let the business be a serious one, if it is to be one at all. But first of all, let us show we are hospitable. Make my apologies, La Fontaine, to M. Vanel, and tell him how distressed I am to have kept him waiting, but that I was not aware he was there.”

La Fontaine set off at once, fortunately accompanied by Gourville, for, absorbed in his own calculations, the poet would have mistaken the route, and was hurrying as fast as he could towards the village of Saint-Mandé. Within a quarter of an hour afterwards, M. Vanel was introduced into the superintendent’s cabinet, a description of which has already been given at the beginning of this story. When Fouquet saw him enter, he called to Pélisson, and whispered a few words in his ear. “Do not lose a single word of what I am going to say: let all the silver and gold plate, together with my jewels of every description, be packed up in the carriage. You will take the black horses: the jeweler will accompany you; and you will postpone the supper until Madame de Bellière’s arrival.”

“Will it be necessary to inform Madame de Bellière of it?” said Pélisson.

“No; that will be useless; I will do that. So, away with you, my dear friend.”

Pélisson set off, not quite clear as to his friend’s meaning or intention, but confident, like every true friend, in the judgment of the man he was blindly obeying. It is that which constitutes the strength of such men; distrust only arises in the minds of inferior natures.

Vanel bowed lowly to the superintendent, and was about to begin a speech.

“Do not trouble yourself, Monsieur,” said Fouquet, politely; “I am told you wish to purchase a post I hold. How much can you give me for it?”

“It is for you, Monseigneur, to fix the amount you require. I know that offers of purchase have already been made to you for it.”

“Madame Vanel, I have been told, values it at fourteen hundred thousand livres.”

“That is all we have.”

“Can you give me the money immediately?”

“I have not the money with me,” said Vanel, frightened almost by the unpretending simplicity, amounting to greatness, of the man, for he had expected disputes, difficulties, opposition of every kind.

“When will you be able to bring it?”

“Whenever you please, Monseigneur”; for he began to be afraid that Fouquet was trifling with him.

“If it were not for the trouble you would have in returning to Paris, I would say at once; but we will arrange that the payment and the signature shall take place at six o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“Very good,” said Vanel, as cold as ice, and feeling quite bewildered.

“Adieu, Monsieur Vanel, present my humblest respects to Madame Vanel,” said Fouquet, as he rose; upon which Vanel, who felt the blood rushing to his head, for he was quite confounded by his success, said seriously to the superintendent, “Will you give me your word, Monseigneur, upon this affair?”

Fouquet turned round his head, saying, “Pardieu, and you, Monsieur?”

Vanel hesitated, trembled all over, and at last finished by hesitatingly holding out his hand. Fouquet opened and nobly extended his own; this loyal hand lay for a moment in Vanel’s most hypocritical palm, and he pressed it in his own, in order the better to convince himself of the compact. The superintendent gently disengaged his hand, as he again said, “Adieu.” And then Vanel ran hastily to the door, hurried along the vestibule, and fled as quickly as he could.

CHAPTER 8

Madame de Bellière’s Plate and Diamonds
Fouquet had no sooner dismissed Vanel than he began to reflect for a few moments⁠—“A man never can do too much for the woman he has once loved. Marguerite wishes to be the wife of a procureur-général⁠—and why not confer this pleasure upon her? And, now that the most scrupulous and sensitive conscience will be unable to reproach me with anything, let my thoughts be bestowed on her who has shown so much devotion for me. Madame de Bellière ought to be there by this time,” he said, as he turned towards the secret door.

After he had locked himself in, he opened the subterranean passage, and rapidly hastened towards the means of communicating between the house at Vincennes and his own residence. He had neglected to apprise his friend of his approach, by ringing the bell, perfectly assured that she would never fail to be exact at the rendezvous; as, indeed, was the case, for she was already waiting. The noise the superintendent made aroused her; she ran to take from under the door the letter he had thrust there, and which simply said, “Come, marquise; we are waiting supper for you.” With her heart filled with happiness Madame de Bellière ran to her carriage in the Avenue de Vincennes, and in a few minutes she was holding out her hand to Gourville, who was standing at the entrance, where, in order the better to please his master, he had stationed himself to watch her arrival. She had not observed that Fouquet’s black horse arrived at the same time, all steaming and foam-flaked, having returned to Saint-Mandé with Pélisson and the very jeweler to whom Madame de Bellière had sold her plate and her jewels. Pélisson introduced the goldsmith into the cabinet, which Fouquet had not yet left. The superintendent thanked him for having been good enough to regard as a simple deposit in his hands, the valuable property which he had every right to sell; and he cast his eyes on the total of the account, which amounted to thirteen hundred thousand francs. Then, going for a few moments to his desk, he wrote an order for fourteen hundred thousand francs, payable at sight, at his treasury, before twelve o’clock the next day.

“A hundred thousand francs profit!” cried the goldsmith. “Oh, Monseigneur, what generosity!”

“Nay, nay, not so, Monsieur,” said Fouquet, touching him on the shoulder; “there are certain kindnesses which can never be repaid. This profit is only what you have earned; but the interest of your money still remains to be arranged.” And, saying this, he unfastened from his sleeve a diamond button, which the goldsmith himself had often valued at three thousand pistoles. “Take this,” he said to the goldsmith, “in remembrance of me. Farewell; you are an honest man.”

“And you, Monseigneur,” cried the goldsmith, completely overcome, “are the noblest man that ever lived.”

Fouquet let the worthy goldsmith pass out of the room by a secret door, and then went to receive Madame de Bellière, who was already surrounded by all the guests. The marquise was always beautiful, but now her loveliness was more dazzling than ever. “Do you not think, gentlemen,” said Fouquet, “that Madame is more than usually beautiful this evening? And do you happen to know why?”

“Because Madame is really the most beautiful of all women,” said someone present.

“No; but because she is the best. And yet⁠—”

“Yet?” said the marquise, smiling.

“And yet, all the jewels which Madame is wearing this evening are nothing but false stones.” At this remark the marquise blushed most painfully.

“Oh, oh!” exclaimed all the guests, “that can very well be said of one who has the finest diamonds in Paris.”

“Well?” said Fouquet to Pélisson, in a low tone.

“Well, at last I have understood you,” returned the latter; “and you have done exceedingly well.”

“Supper is ready, Monseigneur,” said Vatel, with majestic air and tone.

The crowd of guests hurried, more quickly than is usually the case with ministerial entertainments, towards the banqueting-room, where a magnificent spectacle presented itself. Upon the buffets, upon the side-tables, upon the supper-table itself, in the midst of flowers and light, glittered most dazzlingly the richest and most costly gold and silver plate that could possibly be seen⁠—relics of those ancient magnificent productions the Florentine artists, whom the Medici family patronized, sculptured, chased, and moulded for the purpose of holding flowers, at a time when gold existed still in France. These hidden marvels, which had been buried during the civil wars, timidly reappeared during the intervals of that war of good taste called La Fronde; at a time when noblemen fighting against nobleman killed, but did not pillage each other. All the plate present had Madame de Bellière’s arms engraved upon it. “Look,” cried La Fontaine, “here is a P and a B.”

But the most remarkable object present was the cover which Fouquet had assigned to the marquise. Near her was a pyramid of diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, antique cameos, sardonyx stones, carved by the old Greeks of Asia Minor, with mountings of Mysian gold; curious mosaics of ancient Alexandria, set in silver; massive Egyptian bracelets lay heaped on a large plate of Palissy ware, supported by a tripod of gilt bronze, sculptured by Benvenuto Cellini. The marquise turned pale, as she recognized what she had never expected to see again. A profound silence fell on every one of the restless and excited guests. Fouquet did not even make a sign in dismissal of the richly liveried servants who crowded like bees round the huge buffets and other tables in the room. “Gentlemen,” he said, “all this plate which you behold once belonged to Madame de Bellière, who, having observed one of her friends in great distress, sent all this gold and silver, together with the heap of jewels now before her, to her goldsmith. This noble conduct of a devoted friend can well be understood by such friends as you. Happy indeed is that man who sees himself loved in such a manner. Let us drink to the health of Madame de Bellière.”

A tremendous burst of applause followed his words, and made poor Madame de Bellière sink back dumb and breathless in her seat. “And then,” added Pélisson, who was always affected by a noble action, as he was invariably impressed by beauty, “let us also drink to the health of him who inspired Madame’s noble conduct; for such a man is worthy of being worthily loved.”

It was now the marquise’s turn. She rose, pale and smiling; and as she held out her glass with a faltering hand, and her trembling fingers touched those of Fouquet, her look, full of love, found its mirror in that of her ardent and generous-hearted lover. Begun in this manner, the supper soon became a fête; no one tried to be witty, but no one failed in being so. La Fontaine forgot his Gorgny wine, and allowed Vatel to reconcile him to the wines of the Rhone, and those from the shores of Spain. The Abbé Fouquet became so kind and good-natured, that Gourville said to him, “Take care, Monsieur l’Abbé; if you are so tender, you will be carved and eaten.”

The hours passed away so joyously, that, contrary to his usual custom, the superintendent did not leave the table before the end of the dessert. He smiled upon his friends, delighted as a man is whose heart becomes intoxicated before his head⁠—and, for the first time, looked at the clock. Suddenly a carriage rolled into the courtyard, and, strange to say, it was heard high above the noise of the mirth which prevailed. Fouquet listened attentively, and then turned his eyes towards the antechamber. It seemed as if he could hear a step passing across it, a step that, instead of pressing the ground, weighed heavily upon his heart. “M. d’Herblay, bishop of Vannes,” the usher announced. And Aramis’s grave and thoughtful face appeared upon the threshold of the door, between the remains of two garlands, of which the flame of a lamp had just burnt the thread that once united them.

CHAPTER 9

M. de Mazarin’s Receipt
Fouquet would have uttered an exclamation of delight on seeing another friend arrive, if the cold air and averted aspect of Aramis had not restored all his reserve. “Are you going to join us at dessert?” he asked. “And yet you would be frightened, perhaps, at the noise which our wild friends here are making?”

“Monseigneur,” replied Aramis, respectfully, “I will begin by begging you to excuse me for having interrupted this merry meeting; and then, I will beg you to give me, as soon as your pleasure is attended to, a moment’s audience on matters of business.”

As the word “business” had aroused the attention of some of the epicureans present, Fouquet rose, saying: “Business first of all, Monsieur d’Herblay; we are too happy when matters of business arrive only at the end of a meal.”

As he said this, he took the hand of Madame de Bellière, who looked at him with a kind of uneasiness, and then led her to an adjoining salon, after having recommended her to the most reasonable of his guests. And then, taking Aramis by the arm, he led him towards his cabinet. As soon as Aramis was there, throwing aside the respectful air he had assumed, he threw himself into a chair, saying: “Guess whom I have seen this evening?”

“My dear chevalier, every time you begin in that manner, I am sure to hear you announce something disagreeable.”

“Well, and this time you will not be mistaken, either, my dear friend,” replied Aramis.

“Do not keep me in suspense,” added Fouquet, phlegmatically.

“Well, then, I have seen Madame de Chevreuse.”

“The old duchesse, do you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Her ghost, perhaps?”

“No, no; the old she-wolf herself.”

“Without teeth?”

“Possibly, but not without claws.”

“Well! what harm can she meditate against me? I am no miser with women who are not prudes. A quality always prized, even by the woman who no longer presumes to look for love.”

“Madame de Chevreuse knows very well that you are not avaricious, since she wishes to draw some money of you.”

“Indeed! under what pretext?”

“Oh! pretexts are never wanting with her. Let me tell you what it is: it seems that the duchesse has a good many letters of M. de Mazarin’s in her possession.”

“I am not surprised at that, for the prelate was gallant enough.”

“Yes, but these letters have nothing whatever to do with the prelate’s love affairs. They concern, it is said, financial matters rather.”

“And accordingly they are less interesting.”

“Do you not suspect what I mean?”

“Not at all.”

“Have you never heard speak of a prosecution being instituted for an embezzlement, or appropriation rather, of public funds?”

“Yes, a hundred, nay, a thousand times. Ever since I have been engaged in public matters I have hardly heard of anything else. It is precisely your own case, when, as a bishop, people reproach you for impiety; or, as a musketeer, for your cowardice; the very thing of which they are always accusing ministers of finance is the embezzlement of public funds.”

“Very good; but take a particular instance, for the duchesse asserts that M. de Mazarin alludes to certain particular instances.”

“What are they?”

“Something like a sum of thirteen millions of francs, of which it would be very difficult for you to define the precise nature of the employment.”

“Thirteen millions!” said the superintendent, stretching himself in his armchair, in order to enable him the more comfortably to look up towards the ceiling. “Thirteen millions⁠—I am trying to remember out of all those I have been accused of having stolen.”

“Do not laugh, my dear Monsieur, for it is very serious. It is positive that the duchesse has certain letters in her possession, and that these letters must be as she represents them, since she wished to sell them to me for five hundred thousand francs.”

“Oh! one can have a very tolerable calumny got up for such a sum as that,” replied Fouquet. “Ah! now I know what you mean,” and he began to laugh very heartily.

“So much the better,” said Aramis, a little reassured.

“I remember the story of those thirteen millions now. Yes, yes, I remember them quite well.”

“I am delighted to hear it; tell me about them.”

“Well, then, one day Signor Mazarin, Heaven rest his soul! made a profit of thirteen millions upon a concession of lands in the Valtelline; he canceled them in the registry of receipts, sent them to me, and then made me advance them to him for war expenses.”

“Very good; then there is no doubt of their proper destination.”

“No; the cardinal made me invest them in my own name, and gave me a receipt.”

“You have the receipt?”

“Of course,” said Fouquet, as he quietly rose from his chair, and went to his large ebony bureau inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold.

“What I most admire in you,” said Aramis, with an air of great satisfaction, “is, your memory in the first place, then your self-possession, and, finally, the perfect order which prevails in your administration; you, of all men, too, who are by nature a poet.”

“Yes,” said Fouquet, “I am orderly out of a spirit of idleness, to save myself the trouble of looking after things, and so I know that Mazarin’s receipt is in the third drawer under the letter M; I open the drawer, and place my hand upon the very paper I need. In the night, without a light, I could find it.”

And with a confident hand he felt the bundle of papers which were piled up in the open drawer. “Nay, more than that,” he continued, “I remember the paper as if I saw it; it is thick, somewhat crumpled, with gilt edges; Mazarin had made a blot upon the figure of the date. Ah!” he said, “the paper knows we are talking about it, and that we want it very much, and so it hides itself out of the way.”

And as the superintendent looked into the drawer, Aramis rose from his seat.

“This is very singular,” said Fouquet.

“Your memory is treacherous, my dear Monseigneur; look in another drawer.”

Fouquet took out the bundle of papers, and turned them over once more; he then grew very pale.

“Don’t confine your search to that drawer,” said Aramis; “look elsewhere.”

“Quite useless; I have never made a mistake; no one but myself arranges any papers of mine of this nature; no one but myself ever opens this drawer, of which, besides, no one, myself excepted, is aware of the secret.”

“What do you conclude, then?” said Aramis, agitated.

“That Mazarin’s receipt has been stolen from me; Madame de Chevreuse was right, chevalier; I have appropriated the public funds, I have robbed the state coffers of thirteen millions of money; I am a thief, Monsieur d’Herblay.”

“Nay, nay, do not get irritated⁠—do not get excited.”

“And why not, chevalier? surely there is every reason for it. If legal proceedings are well arranged, and a judgment given in accordance with them, your friend the superintendent will soon follow Montfaucon, his colleague Enguerrand de Marigny, and his predecessor, Semblançay.”

“Oh!” said Aramis, smiling, “not so fast as that.”

“And why not? why not so fast? What do you suppose Madame de Chevreuse has done with those letters⁠—for you refused them, I suppose?”

“Yes; at once. I suppose that she went and sold them to M. Colbert.”

“Well?”

“I said I supposed so; I might have said I was sure of it, for I had her followed, and, when she left me, she returned to her own house, went out by a back door, and proceeded straight to the intendant’s house in the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs.”

“Legal proceedings will be instituted, then, scandal and dishonor will follow; and all will fall upon me like a thunderbolt, blindly, pitilessly.”

Aramis approached Fouquet, who sat trembling in his chair, close to the open drawers; he placed his hand on his shoulder, and in an affectionate tone of voice, said: “Do not forget that the position of M. Fouquet can in no way be compared to that of Semblançay or of Marigny.”

“And why not, in Heaven’s name?”

“Because the proceedings against those ministers were determined, completed, and the sentence carried out, whilst in your case the same thing cannot take place.”

“Another blow, why not? A peculator is, under any circumstances, a criminal.”

“Criminals who know how to find a safe asylum are never in danger.”

“What! make my escape? Fly?”

“No, I do not mean that; you forget that all such proceedings originate in the parliament, that they are instituted by the procureur-général, and that you are the procureur-général. You see that, unless you wish to condemn yourself⁠—”

“Oh!” cried Fouquet, suddenly, dashing his fist upon the table.

“Well! what? what is the matter?”

“I am procureur-général no longer.”

Aramis, at this reply, became as livid as death; he pressed his hands together convulsively, and with a wild, haggard look, which almost annihilated Fouquet, he said, laying a stress on every distinct syllable, “You are procureur-général no longer, do you say?”

“No.”

“Since when?”

“Since the last four or five hours.”

“Take care,” interrupted Aramis, coldly; “I do not think you are in the full possession of your senses, my friend; collect yourself.”

“I tell you,” returned Fouquet, “that a little while ago, someone came to me, brought by my friends, to offer me fourteen hundred thousand francs for the appointment, and that I sold it.”

Aramis looked as though he had been struck by lightning; the intelligent and mocking expression of his countenance assumed an aspect of such profound gloom and terror, that it had more effect upon the superintendent than all the exclamations and speeches in the world. “You had need of money, then?” he said, at last.

“Yes; to discharge a debt of honor.” And in a few words, he gave Aramis an account of Madame de Bellière’s generosity, and the manner in which he had thought it but right to discharge that act of generosity.

“Yes,” said Aramis, “that is, indeed, a fine trait. What has it cost?”

“Exactly the fourteen hundred thousand francs⁠—the price of my appointment.”

“Which you received in that manner, without reflection. Oh, imprudent man!”

“I have not yet received the amount, but I shall tomorrow.”

“It is not yet completed, then?”

“It must be carried out, though; for I have given the goldsmith, for twelve o’clock tomorrow, an order upon my treasury, into which the purchaser’s money will be paid at six or seven o’clock.”

“Heaven be praised!” cried Aramis, clapping his hands together, “nothing is yet completed, since you have not yet been paid.”

“But the goldsmith?”

“You shall receive the fourteen hundred thousand francs from me, at a quarter before twelve.”

“Stay a moment; it is at six o’clock, this very morning, that I am to sign.”

“Oh! I will answer that you do not sign.”

“I have given my word, chevalier.”

“If you have given it, you will take it back again, that is all.”

“Can I believe what I hear?” cried Fouquet, in a most expressive tone. “Fouquet recall his word, after it has once been pledged!”

Aramis replied to the almost stern look of the minister by a look full of anger. “Monsieur,” he said, “I believe I have deserved to be called a man of honor? As a soldier, I have risked my life five hundred times; as a priest I have rendered still greater services, both to the state and to my friends. The value of a word, once passed, is estimated according to the worth of the man who gives it. So long as it is in his own keeping, it is of the purest, finest gold; when his wish to keep it has passed away, it is a two-edged sword. With that word, therefore, he defends himself as with an honorable weapon, considering that, when he disregards his word, he endangers his life and incurs an amount of risk far greater than that which his adversary is likely to derive of profit. In such a case, Monsieur, he appeals to Heaven and to justice.”

Fouquet bent down his head, as he replied, “I am a poor, self-determined man, a true Breton born; my mind admires and fears yours. I do not say that I keep my word from a proper feeling only; I keep it, if you like, from custom, practice, pride, or what you will; but, at all events, the ordinary run of men are simple enough to admire this custom of mine; it is my sole good quality⁠—leave me such honor as it confers.”

“And so you are determined to sign the sale of the very appointment which can alone defend you against all your enemies.”

“Yes, I shall sign.”

“You will deliver yourself up, then, bound hand and foot, from a false notion of honor, which the most scrupulous casuists would disdain?”

“I shall sign,” repeated Fouquet.

Aramis sighed deeply, and looked all round him with the impatient gesture of a man who would gladly dash something to pieces, as a relief to his feelings. “We have still one means left,” he said; “and I trust you will not refuse me to make use of that.”

“Certainly not, if it be loyal and honorable; as everything is, in fact, which you propose.”

“I know nothing more loyal than the renunciation of your purchaser. Is he a friend of yours?”

“Certainly: but⁠—”

“ ‘But!’⁠—if you allow me to manage the affair, I do not despair.”

“Oh! you shall be absolutely master to do what you please.”

“Whom are you in treaty with? What manner of man is it?”

“I am not aware whether you know the parliament.”

“Most of its members. One of the presidents, perhaps?”

“No; only a counselor, of the name of Vanel.”

Aramis became perfectly purple. “Vanel!” he cried, rising abruptly from his seat; “Vanel! the husband of Marguerite Vanel?”

“Exactly.”

“Of your former mistress?”

“Yes, my dear fellow; she is anxious to be the wife of the procureur-général. I certainly owed poor Vanel that slight concession, and I am a gainer by it; since I, at the same time, can confer a pleasure on his wife.”

Aramis walked straight up to Fouquet, and took hold of his hand. “Do you know,” he said, very calmly, “the name of Madame Vanel’s new lover?”

“Ah! she has a new lover, then? I was not aware of it; no, I have no idea what his name is.”

“His name is M. Jean-Baptiste Colbert; he is intendant of the finances: he lives in the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs, where Madame de Chevreuse has been this evening to take him Mazarin’s letters, which she wishes to sell.”

“Gracious Heaven!” murmured Fouquet, passing his hand across his forehead, from which the perspiration was starting.

“You now begin to understand, do you not?”

“That I am utterly lost!⁠—yes.”

“Do you now think it worth while to be so scrupulous with regard to keeping your word?”

“Yes,” said Fouquet.

“These obstinate people always contrive matters in such a way, that one cannot but admire them all the while,” murmured Aramis.

Fouquet held out his hand to him, and, at the very moment, a richly ornamented tortoiseshell clock, supported by golden figures, which was standing on a console table opposite to the fireplace, struck six. The sound of a door being opened in the vestibule was heard, and Gourville came to the door of the cabinet to inquire if Fouquet would received M. Vanel. Fouquet turned his eyes from the gaze of Aramis, and then desired that M. Vanel should be shown in.

CHAPTER 10

Monsieur Colbert’s Rough Draft
Vanel, who entered at this stage of the conversation, was nothing less for Aramis and Fouquet than the full stop which completes a phrase. But, for Vanel, Aramis’s presence in Fouquet’s cabinet had quite another signification; and, therefore, at his first step into the room, he paused as he looked at the delicate yet firm features of the bishop of Vannes, and his look of astonishment soon became one of scrutinizing attention. As for Fouquet, a perfect politician, that is to say, complete master of himself, he had already, by the energy of his own resolute will, contrived to remove from his face all traces of the emotion which Aramis’s revelation had occasioned. He was no longer, therefore, a man overwhelmed by misfortune and reduced to resort to expedients; he held his head proudly erect, and indicated by a gesture that Vanel could enter. He was now the first minister of the state, and in his own palace. Aramis knew the superintendent well; the delicacy of the feelings of his heart and the exalted nature of his mind no longer surprised him. He confined himself, then, for the moment⁠—intending to resume later an active part in the conversation⁠—to the performance of the difficult part of a man who looks on and listens, in order to learn and understand. Vanel was visibly overcome, and advanced into the middle of the cabinet, bowing to everything and everybody. “I am here,” he said.

“You are punctual, Monsieur Vanel,” returned Fouquet.

“In matters of business, Monseigneur,” replied Vanel, “I look upon exactitude as a virtue.”

“No doubt, Monsieur.”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted Aramis, indicating Vanel with his finger, but addressing himself to Fouquet; “this is the gentleman, I believe, who has come about the purchase of your appointment?”

“Yes, I am,” replied Vanel, astonished at the extremely haughty tone in which Aramis had put the question; “but in what way am I to address you, who do me the honor⁠—”

“Call me Monseigneur,” replied Aramis, dryly. Vanel bowed.

“Come, gentlemen, a truce to these ceremonies; let us proceed to the matter itself.”

“Monseigneur sees,” said Vanel, “that I am waiting your pleasure.”

“On the contrary, I am waiting,” replied Fouquet.

“What for, may I be permitted to ask, Monseigneur?”

“I thought that you had perhaps something to say.”

Oh, said Vanel to himself, he has reflected on the matter and I am lost. But resuming his courage, he continued, “No, Monseigneur, nothing, absolutely nothing more than what I said to you yesterday, and which I am again ready to repeat to you now.”

“Come, now, tell me frankly, Monsieur Vanel, is not the affair rather a burdensome one for you?”

“Certainly, Monseigneur; fourteen hundred thousand francs is an important sum.”

“So important, indeed,” said Fouquet, “that I have reflected⁠—”

“You have been reflecting, do you say, Monseigneur?” exclaimed Vanel, anxiously.

“Yes; that you might not yet be in a position to purchase.”

“Oh, Monseigneur!”

“Do not make yourself uneasy on that score, Monsieur Vanel; I shall not blame you for a failure in your word, which evidently may arise from inability on your part.”

“Oh, yes, Monseigneur, you would blame me, and you would be right in doing so,” said Vanel; “for a man must either be very imprudent, or a fool, to undertake engagements which he cannot keep; and I, at least, have always regarded a thing agreed on as a thing actually carried out.”

Fouquet colored, while Aramis uttered a “Hum!” of impatience.

“You would be wrong to exaggerate such notions as those, Monsieur,” said the superintendent; “for a man’s mind is variable, and full of these very excusable caprices, which are, however, sometimes estimable enough; and a man may have wished for something yesterday of which he repents today.”

Vanel felt a cold sweat trickle down his face. “Monseigneur!” he muttered.

Aramis, who was delighted to find the superintendent carry on the debate with such clearness and precision, stood leaning his arm upon the marble top of a console table and began to play with a small gold knife, with a malachite handle. Fouquet did not hasten to reply; but after a moment’s pause, “Come, my dear Monsieur Vanel,” he said, “I will explain to you how I am situated.” Vanel began to tremble.

“Yesterday I wished to sell⁠—”

“Monseigneur did more than wish to sell, he actually sold.”

“Well, well, that may be so; but today I ask you the favor to restore me my word which I pledged you.”

“I received your word as a satisfactory assurance that it would be kept.”

“I know that, and that is the reason why I now entreat you; do you understand me? I entreat you to restore it to me.”

Fouquet suddenly paused. The words “I entreat you,” the effect of which he did not immediately perceive, seemed almost to choke him as he uttered it. Aramis, still playing with his knife, fixed a look upon Vanel which seemed as if he wished to penetrate the recesses of his heart. Vanel simply bowed, as he said, “I am overcome, Monseigneur, at the honor you do me to consult me upon a matter of business which is already completed; but⁠—”

“Nay, do not say but, dear Monsieur Vanel.”

“Alas! Monseigneur, you see,” he said, as he opened a large pocketbook, “I have brought the money with me⁠—the whole sum, I mean. And here, Monseigneur, is the contract of sale which I have just effected of a property belonging to my wife. The order is authentic in every particular, the necessary signatures have been attached to it, and it is made payable at sight; it is ready money, in fact, and, in one word, the whole affair is complete.”

“My dear Monsieur Vanel, there is not a matter of business in this world, however important it may be, which cannot be postponed in order to oblige a man, who, by that means, might and would be made a devoted friend.”

“Certainly,” said Vanel, awkwardly.

“And much more justly acquired would that friend become, Monsieur Vanel, since the value of the service he had received would have been so considerable. Well, what do you say? what do you decide?”

Vanel preserved a perfect silence. In the meantime, Aramis had continued his close observation of the man. Vanel’s narrow face, his deeply sunken eyes, his arched eyebrows, had revealed to the bishop of Vannes the type of an avaricious and ambitious character. Aramis’s method was to oppose one passion by another. He saw that M. Fouquet was defeated⁠—morally subdued⁠—and so he came to his rescue with fresh weapons in his hands. “Excuse me, Monseigneur,” he said; “you forgot to show M. Vanel that his own interests are diametrically opposed to this renunciation of the sale.”

Vanel looked at the bishop with astonishment; he had hardly expected to find an auxiliary in him. Fouquet also paused to listen to the bishop.

“Do you not see,” continued Aramis, “that M. Vanel, in order to purchase your appointment, has been obliged to sell a property belonging to his wife; well, that is no slight matter; for one cannot displace, as he has done, fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand francs without some considerable loss, and very serious inconvenience.”

“Perfectly true,” said Vanel, whose secret Aramis had, with keen-sighted gaze, wrung from the bottom of his heart.

“Inconveniences such as these are matters of great expense and calculation, and whenever a man has money matters to deal with, the expenses are generally the very first thing thought of.”

“Yes, yes,” said Fouquet, who began to understand Aramis’s meaning.

Vanel remained perfectly silent; he, too, had understood him. Aramis observed his coldness of manner and his silence. Very good, he said to himself, you are waiting, I see, until you know the amount; but do not fear, I shall send you such a flight of crowns that you cannot but capitulate on the spot.

“We must offer M. Vanel a hundred thousand crowns at once,” said Fouquet, carried away by his generous feelings.

The sum was a good one. A prince, even, would have been satisfied with such a bonus. A hundred thousand crowns at that period was the dowry of a king’s daughter. Vanel, however, did not move.

He is a perfect rascal! thought the bishop, well, we must offer the five hundred thousand francs at once, and he made a sign to Fouquet accordingly.

“You seem to have spent more than that, dear Monsieur Vanel,” said the superintendent. “The price of ready money is enormous. You must have made a great sacrifice in selling your wife’s property. Well, what can I have been thinking of? I ought to have offered to sign you an order for five hundred thousand francs; and even in that case I shall feel that I am greatly indebted to you.”

There was not a gleam of delight or desire on Vanel’s face, which remained perfectly impassible; not a muscle of it changed in the slightest degree. Aramis cast a look almost of despair at Fouquet, and then, going straight up to Vanel and taking hold of him by the coat, in a familiar manner, he said, “Monsieur Vanel, it is neither the inconvenience, nor the displacement of your money, nor the sale of your wife’s property even, that you are thinking of at this moment; it is something more important still. I can well understand it; so pay particular attention to what I am going to say.”

“Yes, Monseigneur,” Vanel replied, beginning to tremble in every limb, as the prelate’s eyes seemed almost ready to devour him.

“I offer you, therefore, in the superintendent’s name, not three hundred thousand livres, nor five hundred thousand, but a million. A million⁠—do you understand me?” he added, as he shook him nervously.

“A million!” repeated Vanel, as pale as death.

“A million; in other words, at the present rate of interest, an income of seventy thousand francs.”

“Come, Monsieur,” said Fouquet, “you can hardly refuse that. Answer⁠—do you accept?”

“Impossible,” murmured Vanel.

Aramis bit his lips, and something like a cloud seemed to pass over his face. The thunder behind this cloud could easily be imagined. He still kept his hold on Vanel. “You have purchased the appointment for fifteen hundred thousand francs, I think. Well, you will receive these fifteen hundred thousand francs back again; by paying M. Fouquet a visit, and shaking hands with him on the bargain, you will have become a gainer of a million and a half. You get honor and profit at the same time, Monsieur Vanel.”

“I cannot do it,” said Vanel, hoarsely.

“Very well,” replied Aramis, who had grasped Vanel so tightly by the coat that, when he let go his hold, Vanel staggered back a few paces, “very well; one can now see clearly enough your object in coming here.”

“Yes,” said Fouquet, “one can easily see that.”

“But⁠—” said Vanel, attempting to stand erect before the weakness of these two men of honor.

“Does the fellow presume to speak?” said Aramis, with the tone of an emperor.

“Fellow!” repeated Vanel.

“The scoundrel, I meant to say,” added Aramis, who had now resumed his usual self-possession. “Come, Monsieur, produce your deed of sale⁠—you have it about you, I suppose, in one of your pockets, already prepared, as an assassin holds his pistol or his dagger concealed under his cloak.”

Vanel began to mutter something.

“Enough!” cried Fouquet. “Where is this deed?”

Vanel tremblingly searched in his pockets, and as he drew out his pocketbook, a paper fell out of it, while Vanel offered the other to Fouquet. Aramis pounced upon the paper which had fallen out, as soon as he recognized the handwriting. “I beg your pardon,” said Vanel, “that is a rough draft of the deed.”

“I see that very clearly,” retorted Aramis, with a smile more cutting than a lash of a whip; “and what I admire most is, that this draft is in M. Colbert’s handwriting. Look, Monseigneur, look.”

And he handed the draft to Fouquet, who recognized the truth of the fact; for, covered with erasures, with inserted words, the margins filled with additions, this deed⁠—a living proof of Colbert’s plot⁠—had just revealed everything to its unhappy victim. “Well!” murmured Fouquet.

Vanel, completely humiliated, seemed as if he were looking for some hole wherein to hide himself.

“Well!” said Aramis, “if your name were not Fouquet, and if your enemy’s name were not Colbert⁠—if you had not this mean thief before you, I should say to you, ‘Repudiate it’; such a proof as this absolves you from your word; but these fellows would think you were afraid; they would fear you less than they do; therefore sign the deed at once.” And he held out a pen towards him.

Fouquet pressed Aramis’s hand; but, instead of the deed which Vanel handed to him, he took the rough draft of it.

“No, not that paper,” said Aramis, hastily; “this is the one. The other is too precious a document for you to part with.”

“No, no!” replied Fouquet; “I will sign under M. Colbert’s own handwriting even; and I write, ‘The handwriting is approved of.’ ” He then signed, and said, “Here it is, Monsieur Vanel.” And the latter seized the paper, dashed down the money, and was about to make his escape.

“One moment,” said Aramis. “Are you quite sure the exact amount is there? It ought to be counted over, Monsieur Vanel; particularly since M. Colbert makes presents of money to ladies, I see. Ah, that worthy M. Colbert is not so generous as M. Fouquet.” And Aramis, spelling every word, every letter of the order to pay, distilled his wrath and his contempt, drop by drop, upon the miserable wretch, who had to submit to this torture for a quarter of an hour. He was then dismissed, not in words, but by a gesture, as one dismisses or discharges a beggar or a menial.

As soon as Vanel had gone, the minister and the prelate, their eyes fixed on each other, remained silent for a few moments.

“Well,” said Aramis, the first to break the silence; “to what can that man be compared, who, at the very moment he is on the point of entering into a conflict with an enemy armed from head to foot, panting for his life, presents himself for the contest utterly defenseless, throws down his arms, and smiles and kisses his hands to his adversary in the most gracious manner? Good faith, M. Fouquet, is a weapon which scoundrels frequently make use of against men of honor, and it answers their purpose. Men of honor, ought, in their turn, also, to make use of dishonest means against such scoundrels. You would soon see how strong they would become, without ceasing to be men of honor.”

“What they did would be termed the acts of a scoundrel,” replied Fouquet.

“Far from that; it would be merely coquetting or playing with the truth. At all events, since you have finished with this Vanel; since you have deprived yourself of the happiness of confounding him by repudiating your word; and since you have given up, for the purpose of being used against yourself, the only weapon which can ruin you⁠—”

“My dear friend,” said Fouquet, mournfully, “you are like the teacher of philosophy whom La Fontaine was telling us about the other day; he saw a child drowning, and began to read him a lecture divided into three heads.”

Aramis smiled as he said, “Philosophy⁠—yes; teacher⁠—yes; a drowning child⁠—yes; but a child can be saved⁠—you shall see. But first of all let us talk about business. Did you not some time ago,” he continued, as Fouquet looked at him with a bewildered air, “speak to me about an idea you had of giving a fête at Vaux?”

“Oh!” said Fouquet, “that was when affairs were flourishing.”

“A fête, I believe, to which the king invited himself of his own accord?”

“No, no, my dear prelate; a fête to which M. Colbert advised the king to invite himself.”

“Ah⁠—exactly; as it would be a fête of so costly a character that you would be ruined in giving it.”

“Precisely so. In happier days, as I said just now, I had a kind of pride in showing my enemies how inexhaustible my resources were; I felt it a point of honor to strike them with amazement, by creating millions under circumstances where they imagined nothing but bankruptcies and failures would follow. But, at present, I am arranging my accounts with the state, with the king, with myself; and I must now become a mean, stingy man; I shall be able to prove to the world that I can act or operate with my pence as I used to do with my bags of pistoles, and from tomorrow my equipages shall be sold, my mansions mortgaged, my expenses curtailed.”

“From tomorrow,” interrupted Aramis, quietly, “you will occupy yourself, without the slightest delay, with your fête at Vaux, which must hereafter be spoken of as one of the most magnificent productions of your most prosperous days.”

“Are you mad, Chevalier d’Herblay?”

“I! do you think so?”

“What do you mean, then? Do you not know that a fête at Vaux, one of the very simplest possible character, would cost four or five millions?”

“I do not speak of a fête of the very simplest possible character, my dear superintendent.”

“But, since the fête is to be given to the king,” replied Fouquet, who misunderstood Aramis’s idea, “it cannot be simple.”

“Just so: it ought to be on a scale of the most unbounded magnificence.”

“In that case, I shall have to spend ten or twelve millions.”

“You shall spend twenty, if you require it,” said Aramis, in a perfectly calm voice.

“Where shall I get them?” exclaimed Fouquet.

“That is my affair, Monsieur le Surintendant; and do not be uneasy for a moment about it. The money shall be placed at once at your disposal, the moment you have arranged the plans of your fête.”

“Chevalier! chevalier!” said Fouquet, giddy with amazement, “whither are you hurrying me?”

“Across the gulf into which you were about to fall,” replied the bishop of Vannes. “Take hold of my cloak, and throw fear aside.”

“Why did you not tell me that sooner, Aramis? There was a day when, with one million only, you could have saved me; whilst today⁠—”

“Whilst today I can give you twenty,” said the prelate. “Such is the case, however⁠—the reason is very simple. On the day you speak of, I had not the million which you had need of at my disposal, whilst now I can easily procure the twenty millions we require.”

“May Heaven hear you, and save me!”

Aramis resumed his usual smile, the expression of which was so singular. “Heaven never fails to hear me,” he said.

“I abandon myself to you unreservedly,” Fouquet murmured.

“No, no; I do not understand it in that manner. I am unreservedly devoted to you. Therefore, as you have the clearest, the most delicate, and the most ingenious mind of the two, you shall have entire control over the fête, even to the very smallest details. Only⁠—”

“Only?” said Fouquet, as a man accustomed to understand and appreciate the value of a parenthesis.

“Well, then, leaving the entire invention of the details to you, I shall reserve to myself a general superintendence over the execution.”

“In what way?”

“I mean, that you will make of me, on that day, a majordomo, a sort of inspector-general, or factotum⁠—something between a captain of the guard and manager or steward. I will look after the people, and will keep the keys of the doors. You will give your orders, of course: but will give them to no one but me. They will pass through my lips, to reach those for whom they are intended⁠—you understand?”

“No, I am very far from understanding.”

“But you agree?”

“Of course, of course, my friend.”

“That is all I care about, then. Thanks; and now go and prepare your list of invitations.”

“Whom shall I invite?”

“Everybody you know.”

CHAPTER 11

In Which the Author Thinks It Is High Time to Return to the Vicomte de Bragelonne
Our readers will have observed in this story, the adventures of the new and of the past generation being detailed, as it were, side by side. He will have noticed in the former, the reflection of the glory of earlier years, the experience of the bitter things of this world; in the former, also, that peace which takes possession of the heart, and that healing of the scars which were formerly deep and painful wounds. In the latter, the conflicts of love and vanity; bitter disappointments, ineffable delights; life instead of memory. If, therefore, any variety has been presented to the reader in the different episodes of this tale, it is to be attributed to the numerous shades of color which are presented on this double tablet, where two pictures are seen side by side, mingling and harmonizing their severe and pleasing tones. The repose of the emotions of one is found in harmonious contrast with the fiery sentiments of the other. After having talked reason with older heads, one loves to talk nonsense with youth. Therefore, if the threads of the story do not seem very intimately to connect the chapter we are now writing with the one we have just written, we do not intend to give ourselves any more thought or trouble about it than Ruysdaël took in painting an autumn sky, after having finished a springtime scene. We accordingly resume Raoul de Bragelonne’s story at the very place where our last sketch left him.

In a state of frenzy and dismay, or rather without power or will of his own⁠—hardly knowing what he was doing⁠—he fled swiftly, after the scene in La Vallière’s room. The king, Montalais, Louise, that chamber, that strange exclusion, Louise’s grief, Montalais’s terror, the king’s wrath⁠—all seemed to indicate some misfortune. But what? He had arrived from London because he had been told of the existence of a danger; and almost on his arrival this appearance of danger was manifest. Was not this sufficient for a lover? Certainly it was, but it was insufficient for a pure and upright heart such as his. And yet Raoul did not seek for explanations in the very quarter where more jealous or less timid lovers would have done. He did not go straightaway to his mistress, and say, “Louise, is it true that you love me no longer? Is it true that you love another?” Full of courage, full of friendship as he was full of love; a religious observer of his word, and believing blindly the word of others, Raoul said within himself, “Guiche wrote to put me on my guard, Guiche knows something; I will go and ask Guiche what he knows, and tell him what I have seen.” The journey was not a long one. Guiche, who had been brought from Fontainebleau to Paris within the last two days, was beginning to recover from his wounds, and to walk about a little in his room. He uttered a cry of joy as he saw Raoul, with the eagerness of friendship, enter the apartment. Raoul was unable to refrain from a cry of grief, when he saw de Guiche, so pale, so thin, so melancholy. A very few words, and a simple gesture which de Guiche made to put aside Raoul’s arm, were sufficient to inform the latter of the truth.

“Ah! so it is,” said Raoul, seating himself beside his friend; “one loves and dies.”

“No, no, not dies,” replied Guiche, smiling, “since I am now recovering, and since, too, I can press you in my arms.”

“Ah! I understand.”

“And I understand you, too. You fancy I am unhappy, Raoul?”

“Alas!”

“No; I am the happiest of men. My body suffers, but not my mind or my heart. If you only knew⁠—Oh! I am, indeed, the very happiest of men.”

“So much the better,” said Raoul; “so much the better, provided it lasts.”

“It is over. I have had enough happiness to last me to my dying day, Raoul.”

“I have no doubt you have had; but she⁠—”

“Listen; I love her, because⁠—but you are not listening to me.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Your mind is preoccupied.”

“Yes, your health, in the first place⁠—”

“It is not that, I know.”

“My dear friend, you would be wrong. I think, to ask me any questions⁠—you of all persons in the world”; and he laid so much weight upon the “you,” that he completely enlightened his friend upon the nature of the evil, and the difficulty of remedying it.

“You say that, Raoul, on account of what I wrote to you.”

“Certainly. We will talk over that matter a little, when you have finished telling me of all your own pleasures and your pains.”

“My dear friend, I am entirely at your service.”

“Thank you; I have hurried, I have flown here; I came in half the time the government couriers usually take. Now, tell me, my dear friend, what did you want?”

“Nothing whatever, but to make you come.”

“Well, then, I am here.”

“All is quite right, then.”

“There must have been something else, I suppose?”

“No, indeed.”

“De Guiche!”

“Upon my honor!”

“You cannot possibly have crushed all my hopes so violently, or have exposed me to being disgraced by the king for my return, which is in disobedience of his orders⁠—you cannot, I say, have planted jealousy in my heart, merely to say to me, ‘It is all right, be perfectly easy.’ ”

“I do not say to you, Raoul, ‘Be perfectly easy’; but pray understand me; I never will, nor can I, indeed, tell you anything else.”

“What sort of person do you take me for?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you know anything, why conceal it from me? If you do not know anything, why did you write so warningly?”

“True, true, I was very wrong, and I regret having done so, Raoul. It seems nothing to write to a friend and say ‘Come’; but to have this friend face to face, to feel him tremble, and breathlessly and anxiously wait to hear what one hardly dare tell him, is very different.”

“Dare! I have courage enough, if you have not,” exclaimed Raoul, in despair.

“See how unjust you are, and how soon you forget you have to do with a poor wounded fellow such as your unhappy friend is. So, calm yourself, Raoul. I said to you, ‘Come’⁠—you are here, so ask me nothing further.”

“Your object in telling me to come was your hope that I should see with my own eyes, was it not? Nay, do not hesitate, for I have seen all.”

“Oh!” exclaimed de Guiche.

“Or at least I thought⁠—”

“There, now, you see you are not sure. But if you have any doubt, my poor friend, what remains for me to do?”

“I saw Louise much agitated⁠—Montalais in a state of bewilderment⁠—the king⁠—”

“The king?”

“Yes. You turn your head aside. The danger is there, the evil is there; tell me, is it not so, is it not the king?”

“I say nothing.”

“Oh! you say a thousand times more than nothing. Give me facts, for pity’s sake, give me proofs. My friend, the only friend I have, speak⁠—tell me all. My heart is crushed, wounded to death; I am dying from despair.”

“If that really be so, as I see it is, indeed, dear Raoul,” replied de Guiche, “you relieve me from my difficulty, and I will tell you all, perfectly sure that I can tell you nothing but what is consoling, compared to the despair from which I see you suffering.”

“Go on⁠—go on; I am listening.”

“Well, then, I can only tell you what you might learn from everyone you meet.”

“From everyone, do you say? It is talked about, then!”

“Before you say people talk about it, learn what it is that people have to talk about. I assure you solemnly, that people only talk about what may, in truth, be very innocent; perhaps a walk⁠—”

“Ah! a walk with the king?”

“Yes, certainly, a walk with the king; and I believe the king has already very frequently before taken walks with ladies, without on that account⁠—”

“You would not have written to me, shall I say again, if there had been nothing unusual in this promenade.”

“I know that while the storm lasted, it would have been far better if the king had taken shelter somewhere else, than to have remained with his head uncovered before La Vallière; but the king is so very courteous and polite.”

“Oh! De Guiche, de Guiche, you are killing me!”

“Do not let us talk any more, then.”

“Nay, let us continue. This walk was followed by others, I suppose?”

“No⁠—I mean yes: there was the adventure of the oak, I think. But I know nothing about the matter at all.” Raoul rose; de Guiche endeavored to imitate him, notwithstanding his weakness. “Well, I will not add another word: I have said either too much or not enough. Let others give you further information if they will, or if they can; my duty was to warn you, and that I have done. Watch over your own affairs now, yourself.”

“Question others! Alas! you are no true friend to speak to me in that manner,” said the young man, in utter distress. “The first man I meet may be either evilly disposed or a fool⁠—if the former, he will tell me a lie to make me suffer more than I do now; if the latter, he will do worse still. Ah! De Guiche, de Guiche, before two hours are over, I shall have been told ten falsehoods, and shall have as many duels on my hands. Save me, then; is it not best to know the worst always?”

“But I know nothing, I tell you; I was wounded, attacked by fever: out of my senses; and I have only a very faint recollection of it all. But there is no reason why we should search very far, when the very man we want is close at hand. Is not d’Artagnan your friend?”

“Oh! true, true!”

“Got to him, then. He will be able to throw sufficient light upon the subject.” At this moment a lackey entered the room. “What is it?” said de Guiche.

“Someone is waiting for Monseigneur in the Cabinet des Porcelaines.”

“Very well. Will you excuse me, my dear Raoul? I am so proud since I have been able to walk again.”

“I would offer you my arm, de Guiche, if I did not guess that the person in question is a lady.”

“I believe so,” said de Guiche, smiling as he quitted Raoul.

Raoul remained motionless, absorbed in grief, overwhelmed, like the miner upon whom a vault has just fallen in, who, wounded, his lifeblood welling fast, his thoughts confused, endeavors to recover himself, to save his life and to retain his reason. A few minutes were all Raoul needed to dissipate the bewildering sensations occasioned by these two revelations. He had already recovered the thread of his ideas, when, suddenly, through the door, he fancied he recognized Montalais’s voice in the Cabinet des Porcelaines. “She!” he cried. “Yes, it is indeed her voice! She will be able to tell me the whole truth; but shall I question her here? She conceals herself even from me; she is coming, no doubt, from Madame. I will see her in her own apartment. She will explain her alarm, her flight, the strange manner in which I was driven out; she will tell me all that⁠—after M. d’Artagnan, who knows everything, shall have given me fresh strength and courage. Madame, a coquette I fear, and yet a coquette who is herself in love, has her moments of kindness; a coquette who is as capricious and uncertain as life or death, but who tells de Guiche that he is the happiest of men. He at least is lying on roses.” And so he hastily quitted the comte’s apartments, reproaching himself as he went for having talked of nothing but his own affairs to de Guiche, and soon reached d’Artagnan’s quarters.

CHAPTER 12

Bragelonne Continues His Inquiries
The captain, sitting buried in his leathern armchair, his spurs fixed in the floor, his sword between his legs, was reading a number of letters, as he twisted his mustache. D’Artagnan uttered a welcome full of pleasure when he perceived his friend’s son. “Raoul, my boy,” he said, “by what lucky accident does it happen that the king has recalled you?”

These words did not sound agreeably in the young man’s ears, who, as he seated himself, replied, “Upon my word I cannot tell you; all that I know is⁠—I have come back.”

“Hum!” said d’Artagnan, folding up his letters and directing a look full of meaning at him; “what do you say, my boy? that the king has not recalled you, and you have returned? I do not understand that at all.”

Raoul was already pale enough; and he now began to turn his hat round and round in his hand.

“What the deuce is the matter that you look as you do, and what makes you so dumb?” said the captain. “Do people nowadays assume that sort of airs in England? I have been in England, and came here again as lively as a chaffinch. Will you not say something?”

“I have too much to say.”

“Ah! how is your father?”

“Forgive me, my dear friend, I was going to ask you that.”

D’Artagnan increased the sharpness of his penetrating gaze, which no secret was capable of resisting. “You are unhappy about something,” he said.

“I am, indeed; and you know the reason very well, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“I?”

“Of course. Nay, do not pretend to be astonished.”

“I am not pretending to be astonished, my friend.”

“Dear captain, I know very well that in all trials of finesse, as well as in all trials of strength, I shall be beaten by you. You can see that at the present moment I am an idiot, an absolute noodle. I have neither head nor arm; do not despise, but help me. In two words, I am the most wretched of living beings.”

“Oh, oh! why that?” inquired d’Artagnan, unbuckling his belt and thawing the asperity of his smile.

“Because Mademoiselle de La Vallière is deceiving me.”

“She is deceiving you,” said d’Artagnan, not a muscle of whose face had moved; “those are big words. Who makes use of them?”

“Everyone.”

“Ah! if everyone says so, there must be some truth in it. I begin to believe there is fire when I see smoke. It is ridiculous, perhaps, but it is so.”

“Therefore you do believe me?” exclaimed Bragelonne, quickly.

“I never mix myself up in affairs of that kind; you know that very well.”

“What! not for a friend, for a son!”

“Exactly. If you were a stranger, I should tell you⁠—I will tell you nothing at all. How is Porthos, do you know?”

“Monsieur,” cried Raoul, pressing d’Artagnan’s hand, “I entreat you in the name of the friendship you vowed my father!”

“The deuce take it, you are really ill⁠—from curiosity.”

“No, it is not from curiosity, it is from love.”

“Good. Another big word. If you were really in love, my dear Raoul, you would be very different.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if you were really so deeply in love that I could believe I was addressing myself to your heart⁠—but it is impossible.”

“I tell you I love Louise to distraction.”

D’Artagnan could read to the very bottom of the young man’s heart.

“Impossible, I tell you,” he said. “You are like all young men; you are not in love, you are out of your senses.”

“Well! suppose it were only that?”

“No sensible man ever succeeded in making much of a brain when the head was turned. I have completely lost my senses in the same way a hundred times in my life. You would listen to me, but you would not hear me! you would hear, but you would not understand me; you would understand, but you would not obey me.”

“Oh! try, try.”

“I go far. Even if I were unfortunate enough to know something, and foolish enough to communicate it to you⁠—You are my friend, you say?”

“Indeed, yes.”

“Very good. I should quarrel with you. You would never forgive me for having destroyed your illusion, as people say in love affairs.”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan, you know all; and yet you plunge me in perplexity and despair, in death itself.”

“There, there now.”

“I never complain, as you know; but as Heaven and my father would never forgive me for blowing out my brains, I will go and get the first person I meet to give me the information which you withhold; I will tell him he lies, and⁠—”

“And you would kill him. And a fine affair that would be. So much the better. What should I care? Kill anyone you please, my boy, if it gives you any pleasure. It is exactly like a man with a toothache, who keeps on saying, ‘Oh! what torture I am suffering. I could bite a piece of iron in half.’ My answer always is, ‘Bite, my friend, bite; the tooth will remain all the same.’ ”

“I shall not kill anyone, Monsieur,” said Raoul, gloomily.

“Yes, yes! you now assume a different tone: instead of killing, you will get killed yourself, I suppose you mean? Very fine, indeed! How much I should regret you! Of course I should go about all day, saying, ‘Ah! what a fine stupid fellow that Bragelonne was! as great a stupid as I ever met with. I have passed my whole life almost in teaching him how to hold and use his sword properly, and the silly fellow has got himself spitted like a lark.’ Go, then, Raoul, go and get yourself disposed of, if you like. I hardly know who can have taught you logic, but deuce take me if your father has not been regularly robbed of his money.”

Raoul buried his face in his hands, murmuring: “No, no; I have not a single friend in the world.”

“Oh! bah!” said d’Artagnan.

“I meet with nothing but raillery or indifference.”

“Idle fancies, Monsieur. I do not laugh at you, although I am a Gascon. And, as for being indifferent, if I were so, I should have sent you about your business a quarter of an hour ago, for you would make a man who was out of his senses with delight as dull as possible, and would be the death of one who was out of spirits. How now, young man! do you wish me to disgust you with the girl you are attached to, and to teach you to execrate the whole sex who constitute the honor and happiness of human life?”

“Oh! tell me, Monsieur, and I will bless you.”

“Do you think, my dear fellow, that I can have crammed into my brain all about the carpenter, and the painter, and the staircase, and a hundred other similar tales of the same kind?”

“A carpenter! what do you mean?”

“Upon my word I don’t know; someone told me there was a carpenter who made an opening through a certain flooring.”

“In La Vallière’s room!”

“Oh! I don’t know where.”

“In the king’s apartment, perhaps?”

“Of course, if it were in the king’s apartment, I should tell you, I suppose.”

“In whose room, then?”

“I have told you for the last hour that I know nothing of the whole affair.”

“But the painter, then? the portrait⁠—”

“It seems that the king wished to have the portrait of one of the ladies belonging to the court.”

“La Vallière?”

“Why, you seem to have only that name in your mouth. Who spoke to you of La Vallière?”

“If it be not her portrait, then, why do you suppose it would concern me?”

“I do not suppose it will concern you. But you ask me all sorts of questions, and I answer you. You positively will learn all the scandal of the affair, and I tell you⁠—make the best you can of it.”

Raoul struck his forehead with his hand in utter despair. “It will kill me!” he said.

“So you have said already.”

“Yes, you are right,” and he made a step or two, as if he were going to leave.

“Where are you going?”

“To look for someone who will tell me the truth.”

“Who is that?”

“A woman.”

“Mademoiselle de La Vallière herself, I suppose you mean?” said d’Artagnan, with a smile. “Ah! a famous idea that! You wish to be consoled by someone, and you will be so at once. She will tell you nothing ill of herself, of course. So be off.”

“You are mistaken, Monsieur,” replied Raoul; “the woman I mean will tell me all the evil she possibly can.”

“You allude to Montalais, I suppose⁠—her friend; a woman who, on that account, will exaggerate all that is either bad or good in the matter. Do not talk to Montalais, my good fellow.”

“You have some reasons for wishing me not to talk with Montalais?”

“Well, I admit it. And, in point of fact, why should I play with you as a cat does with a poor mouse? You distress me, you do, indeed. And if I wish you not to speak to Montalais just now, it is because you will be betraying your secret, and people will take advantage of it. Wait, if you can.”

“I cannot.”

“So much the worse. Why, you see, Raoul, if I had an idea⁠—but I have not got one.”

“Promise me that you will pity me, my friend, that is all I need, and leave me to get out of the affair by myself.”

“Oh! yes, indeed, in order that you may get deeper into the mire! A capital idea, truly! go and sit down at that table and take a pen in your hand.”

“What for?”

“To write and ask Montalais to give you an interview.”

“Ah!” said Raoul, snatching eagerly at the pen which the captain held out to him.

Suddenly the door opened, and one of the musketeers, approaching d’Artagnan, said, “Captain, Mademoiselle de Montalais is here, and wishes to speak to you.”

“To me?” murmured d’Artagnan. “Ask her to come in.” I shall soon see, he said to himself, whether she wishes to speak to me or not.

The cunning captain was quite right in his suspicions; for as soon as Montalais entered she exclaimed, “Oh, Monsieur! Monsieur! I beg your pardon, Monsieur d’Artagnan.”

“Oh! I forgive you, Mademoiselle,” said d’Artagnan; “I know that, at my age, those who are looking for me generally need me for something or another.”

“I was looking for M. de Bragelonne,” replied Montalais.

“How very fortunate that is; he was looking for you, too. Raoul, will you accompany Mademoiselle de Montalais?”

“Oh! certainly.”

“Go along, then,” he said, as he gently pushed Raoul out of the cabinet; and then, taking hold of Montalais’s hand, he said, in a low voice, “Be kind towards him; spare him, and spare her, too, if you can.”

“Ah!” she said, in the same tone of voice, “it is not I who am going to speak to him.”

“Who, then?”

“It is Madame who has sent for him.”

“Very good,” cried d’Artagnan, “it is Madame, is it? In an hour’s time, then, the poor fellow will be cured.”

“Or else dead,” said Montalais, in a voice full of compassion. “Adieu, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” she said; and she ran to join Raoul, who was waiting for her at a little distance from the door, very much puzzled and thoroughly uneasy at the dialogue, which promised no good augury for him.

CHAPTER 13

Two Jealousies
Lovers are tender towards everything that forms part of the daily life of the object of their affection. Raoul no sooner found himself alone with Montalais, than he kissed her hand with rapture. “There, there,” said the young girl, sadly, “you are throwing your kisses away; I will guarantee that they will not bring you back any interest.”

“How so?⁠—Why?⁠—Will you explain to me, my dear Aure?”

“Madame will explain everything to you. I am going to take you to her apartments.”

What!

“Silence! and throw away your dark and savage looks. The windows here have eyes, the walls have ears. Have the kindness not to look at me any longer; be good enough to speak to me aloud of the rain, of the fine weather, and of the charms of England.”

“At all events⁠—” interrupted Raoul.

“I tell you, I warn you, that wherever people may be, I know not how, Madame is sure to have eyes and ears open. I am not very desirous, you can easily believe, of being dismissed or thrown in to the Bastille. Let us talk, I tell you, or rather, do not let us talk at all.”

Raoul clenched his hands, and tried to assume the look and gait of a man of courage, it is true, but of a man of courage on his way to the torture chamber. Montalais, glancing in every direction, walking along with an easy swinging gait, and holding up her head pertly in the air, preceded him to Madame’s apartments, where he was at once introduced. Well, he thought, this day will pass away without my learning anything. Guiche showed too much consideration for my feelings; he had no doubt come to an understanding with Madame, and both of them, by a friendly plot, agreed to postpone the solution of the problem. Why have I not a determined, inveterate enemy⁠—that serpent, de Wardes, for instance; that he would bite, is very likely; but I should not hesitate any more. To hesitate, to doubt⁠—better, far, to die.

The next moment Raoul was in Madame’s presence. Henrietta, more charming than ever, was half lying, half reclining in her armchair, her small feet upon an embroidered velvet cushion; she was playing with a kitten with long silky fur, which was biting her fingers and hanging by the lace of her collar.

Madame seemed plunged in deep thought, so deep, indeed, that it required both Montalais and Raoul’s voice to disturb her from her reverie.

“Your Highness sent for me?” repeated Raoul.

Madame shook her head as if she were just awakening, and then said, “Good morning, Monsieur de Bragelonne; yes, I sent for you; so you have returned from England?”

“Yes, Madame, and am at Your Royal Highness’s commands.”

“Thank you; leave us, Montalais,” and the latter immediately left the room.

“You have a few minutes to give me, Monsieur de Bragelonne, have you not?”

“My life is at Your Royal Highness’s disposal,” Raoul returned with respect, guessing that there was something serious in these unusual courtesies; nor was he displeased, indeed, to observe the seriousness of her manner, feeling persuaded that there was some sort of affinity between Madame’s sentiments and his own. In fact, everyone at court of any perception at all, knew perfectly well the capricious fancy and absurd despotism of the princess’s singular character. Madame had been flattered beyond all bounds by the king’s attention; she had made herself talked about; she had inspired the queen with that mortal jealousy which is the stinging scorpion at the heel of every woman’s happiness; Madame, in a word, in her attempts to cure a wounded pride, found that her heart had become deeply and passionately attached. We know what Madame had done to recall Raoul, who had been sent out of the way by Louis XIV. Raoul did not know of her letter to Charles II, although d’Artagnan had guessed its contents. Who will undertake to account for that seemingly inexplicable mixture of love and vanity, that passionate tenderness of feeling, that prodigious duplicity of conduct? No one can, indeed; not even the bad angel who kindles the love of coquetry in the heart of a woman. “Monsieur de Bragelonne,” said the princess, after a moment’s pause, “have you returned satisfied?”

Bragelonne looked at Madame Henrietta, and seeing how pale she was, not alone from what she was keeping back, but also from what she was burning to say, said: “Satisfied! what is there for me to be satisfied or dissatisfied about, Madame?”

“But what are those things with which a man of your age, and of your appearance, is usually either satisfied or dissatisfied?”

How eager she is, thought Raoul, almost terrified; what venom is it she is going to distil into my heart? and then, frightened at what she might possibly be going to tell him, and wishing to put off the opportunity of having everything explained, which he had hitherto so ardently wished for, yet had dreaded so much, he replied: “I left, Madame, a dear friend in good health, and on my return I find him very ill.”

“You refer to M. de Guiche,” replied Madame Henrietta, with imperturbable self-possession; “I have heard he is a very dear friend of yours.”

“He is, indeed, Madame.”

“Well, it is quite true he has been wounded; but he is better now. Oh! M. de Guiche is not to be pitied,” she said hurriedly; and then, recovering herself, added, “But has he anything to complain of? Has he complained of anything? Is there any cause of grief or sorrow that we are not acquainted with?”

“I allude only to his wound, Madame.”

“So much the better, then, for, in other respects, M. de Guiche seems to be very happy; he is always in very high spirits. I am sure that you, Monsieur de Bragelonne, would far prefer to be, like him, wounded only in the body⁠ ⁠… for what, in deed, is such a wound, after all!”

Raoul started. Alas! he said to himself, she is returning to it.

“What did you say?” she inquired.

“I did not say anything Madame.”

“You did not say anything; you disapprove of my observation, then? you are perfectly satisfied, I suppose?”

Raoul approached closer to her. “Madame,” he said, “Your Royal Highness wishes to say something to me, and your instinctive kindness and generosity of disposition induce you to be careful and considerate as to your manner of conveying it. Will Your Royal Highness throw this kind forbearance aside? I am able to bear everything; and I am listening.”

“Ah!” replied Henrietta, “what do you understand, then?”

“That which Your Royal Highness wishes me to understand,” said Raoul, trembling, notwithstanding his command over himself, as he pronounced these words.

“In point of fact,” murmured the princess⁠ ⁠… “it seems cruel, but since I have begun⁠—”

“Yes, Madame, once Your Highness has deigned to begin, will you condescend to finish⁠—”

Henrietta rose hurriedly and walked a few paces up and down her room. “What did M. de Guiche tell you?” she said, suddenly.

“Nothing, Madame.”

“Nothing! Did he say nothing? Ah! how well I recognize him in that.”

“No doubt he wished to spare me.”

“And that is what friends call friendship. But surely, M. d’Artagnan, whom you have just left, must have told you.”

“No more than de Guiche, Madame.”

Henrietta made a gesture full of impatience, as she said, “At least, you know all the court knows.”

“I know nothing at all, Madame.”

“Not the scene in the storm?”

“No, Madame.”

“Not the tête-à-tête in the forest?”

“No, Madame.”

“Nor the flight to Chaillot?”

Raoul, whose head dropped like a blossom cut down by the reaper, made an almost superhuman effort to smile, as he replied with the greatest gentleness: “I have had the honor of telling Your Royal Highness that I am absolutely ignorant of everything, that I am a poor unremembered outcast, who has this moment arrived from England. There have rolled so many stormy waves between myself and those I left behind me here, that the rumor of none of the circumstances Your Highness refers to, has been able to reach me.”

Henrietta was affected by his extreme pallor, his gentleness, and his great courage. The principal feeling in her heart at that moment was an eager desire to hear the nature of the remembrance which the poor lover retained of the woman who had made him suffer so much. “Monsieur de Bragelonne,” she said, “that which your friends have refused to do, I will do for you, whom I like and esteem very much. I will be your friend on this occasion. You hold your head high, as a man of honor should; and I deeply regret that you may have to bow before ridicule, and in a few days, it might be, contempt.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Raoul, perfectly livid. “It is as bad as that, then?”

“If you do not know,” said the princess, “I see that you guess; you were affianced, I believe, to Mademoiselle de La Vallière?”

“Yes, Madame.”

“By that right, you deserve to be warned about her, as some day or another I shall be obliged to dismiss Mademoiselle de La Vallière from my service⁠—”

“Dismiss La Vallière!” cried Bragelonne.

“Of course. Do you suppose I shall always be amenable to the tears and protestations of the king? No, no! my house shall no longer be made a convenience for such practices; but you tremble, you cannot stand⁠—”

“No, Madame, no,” said Bragelonne, making an effort over himself; “I thought I should have died just now, that was all. Your Royal Highness did me the honor to say that the king wept and implored you⁠—”

“Yes, but in vain,” returned the princess; who then related to Raoul the scene that took place at Chaillot, and the king’s despair on his return; she told him of his indulgence to herself and the terrible word with which the outraged princess, the humiliated coquette, had quashed the royal anger.

Raoul stood with his head bent down.

“What do you think of it all?” she said.

“The king loves her,” he replied.

“But you seem to think she does not love him!”

“Alas, Madame, I was thinking of the time when she loved me.”

Henrietta was for a moment struck with admiration at this sublime disbelief: and then, shrugging her shoulders, she said, “You do not believe me, I see. How deeply you must love her. And you doubt if she loves the king?”

“I do, until I have a proof of it. Forgive me, Madame, but she has given me her word; and her mind and heart are too upright to tell a falsehood.”

“You require a proof! Be it so. Come with me, then.”

CHAPTER 14

A Domiciliary Visit
The princess, preceding Raoul, led him through the courtyard towards that part of the building La Vallière inhabited, and, ascending the same staircase which Raoul himself had ascended that very morning, she paused at the door of the room in which the young man had been so strangely received by Montalais. The opportunity was remarkably well chosen to carry out the project Madame Henrietta had conceived, for the château was empty. The king, the courtiers, and the ladies of the court, had set off for Saint-Germain; Madame Henrietta was the only one who knew of Bragelonne’s return, and thinking over the advantages which might be drawn from this return, she had feigned indisposition in order to remain behind. Madame was therefore confident of finding La Vallière’s room and Saint-Aignan’s apartment perfectly empty. She took a passkey from her pocket and opened the door of her maid of honor’s apartment. Bragelonne’s gaze was immediately fixed upon the interior of the room, which he recognized at once; and the impression which the sight of it produced upon him was torture. The princess looked at him, and her practiced eye at once detected what was passing in the young man’s heart.

“You asked for proofs,” she said; “do not be astonished, then, if I give you them. But if you do not think you have courage enough to confront them, there is still time to withdraw.”

“I thank you, Madame,” said Bragelonne; “but I came here to be convinced. You promised to convince me⁠—do so.”

“Enter, then,” said Madame, “and shut the door behind you.”

Bragelonne obeyed, and then turned towards the princess, whom he interrogated by a look.

“You know where you are, I suppose?” inquired Madame Henrietta.

“Everything leads me to believe I am in Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s room.”

“You are.”

“But I would observe to Your Highness, that this room is a room, and is not a proof.”

“Wait,” said the princess, as she walked to the foot of the bed, folded up the screen into its several compartments, and stooped down towards the floor. “Look here,” she continued; “stoop down and lift up this trapdoor yourself.”

“A trapdoor!” said Raoul, astonished; for d’Artagnan’s words began to return to his memory, and he had an indistinct recollection that d’Artagnan had made use of the same word. He looked, but uselessly, for some cleft or crevice which might indicate an opening or a ring to assist in lifting up the planking.

“Ah, I forgot,” said Madame Henrietta, “I forgot the secret spring; the fourth plank of the flooring⁠—press on the spot where you will observe a knot in the wood. Those are the instructions; press, vicomte! press, I say, yourself.”

Raoul, pale as death, pressed his finger on the spot which had been indicated to him; at the same moment the spring began to work, and the trap rose of its own accord.

“It is ingenious enough, certainly,” said the princess; “and one can see that the architect foresaw that a woman’s hand only would have to make use of this spring, for see how easily the trapdoor opened without assistance.”

“A staircase!” cried Raoul.

“Yes, and a very pretty one, too,” said Madame Henrietta. “See, vicomte, the staircase has a balustrade, intended to prevent the falling of timid persons, who might be tempted to descend the staircase; and I will risk myself on it accordingly. Come, vicomte, follow me!”

“But before following you, Madame, may I ask where this staircase leads to?”

“Ah, true; I forgot to tell you. You know, perhaps, that formerly M. de Saint-Aignan lived in the very next apartment to the king?”

“Yes, Madame, I am aware of that; that was the arrangement, at least, before I left; and more than once I had the honor of visiting his rooms.”

“Well, he obtained the king’s leave to change his former convenient and beautiful apartment for the two rooms to which this staircase will conduct us, and which together form a lodging for him half the size, and at ten times greater the distance from the king⁠—a close proximity to whom is by no means disdained, in general, by the gentlemen belonging to the court.”

“Very good, Madame,” returned Raoul; “but go on, I beg, for I do not understand yet.”

“Well, then it accidentally happened,” continued the princess, “that M. de Saint-Aignan’s apartment is situated underneath the apartments of my maids of honor, and by a further coincidence, exactly underneath the room of La Vallière.”

“But what was the motive of this trapdoor and this staircase?”

“That I cannot tell you. Would you like to go down to Monsieur de Saint-Aignan’s rooms? Perhaps we shall be able to find the solution of the enigma there.”

And Madame set the example by going down herself, while Raoul, sighing deeply, followed her. At every step Bragelonne took, he advanced further into that mysterious apartment which had witnessed La Vallière’s sighs and still retained the perfume of her presence. Bragelonne fancied he perceived, as he inhaled the atmosphere, that the young girl must have passed through. Then succeeded to these emanations of herself, which he regarded as invisible though certain proofs, flowers she preferred to all others⁠—books of her own selection. If Raoul retained a single doubt on the subject, it would have vanished at the secret harmony of tastes and connection of the mind with the ordinary objects of life. La Vallière, in Bragelonne’s eyes, was present there in each article of furniture, in the color of the hangings, in all that surrounded him. Dumb, and now completely overwhelmed, there was nothing further for him now to learn, and he followed his pitiless conductress as blindly as the culprit follows the executioner; while Madame, as cruel as women of overstrung temperaments generally are, did not spare him the slightest detail. But it must be admitted that, notwithstanding the kind of apathy into which he had fallen, none of these details, even had he been left alone, would have escaped him. The happiness of the woman who loves, when that happiness is derived from a rival, is a living torture for a jealous man; but for a jealous man such as Raoul was, for one whose heart for the first time in its existence was being steeped in gall and bitterness, Louise’s happiness was in reality an ignominious death, a death of body and soul. He guessed all; he fancied he could see them, with their hands clasped in each other’s, their faces drawn close together, and reflected, side by side, in loving proximity, and they gazed upon the mirrors around them⁠—so sweet an occupation for lovers, who, as they thus see themselves twice over, imprint the picture still more deeply on their memories. He could guess, too, the stolen kiss snatched as they separated from each other’s loved society. The luxury, the studied elegance, eloquent of the perfection of indolence, of ease; the extreme care shown, either to spare the loved object every annoyance, or to occasion her a delightful surprise; that might and majesty of love multiplied by the majesty and might of royalty itself, seemed like a deathblow to Raoul. If there be anything which can in any way assuage or mitigate the tortures of jealousy, it is the inferiority of the man who is preferred to yourself; whilst, on the very contrary, if there be one anguish more bitter than another, a misery for which language lacks a word, it is the superiority of the man preferred to yourself, superior, perhaps, in youth, beauty, grace. It is in such moments as these that Heaven almost seems to have taken part against the disdained and rejected lover.

One final pang was reserved for poor Raoul. Madame Henrietta lifted up a silk curtain, and behind the canvas he perceived La Vallière’s portrait. Not only the portrait of La Vallière, but of La Vallière radiant with youth, beauty, and happiness, inhaling life and enjoyment at every pore, because at eighteen years of age love itself is life.

“Louise!” murmured Bragelonne⁠—“Louise! is it true, then? Oh, you have never loved me, for never have you looked at me in that manner.” And he felt as if his heart were crushed within his bosom.

Madame Henrietta looked at him, almost envious of his extreme grief, although she well knew there was nothing to envy in it, and that she herself was as passionately loved by de Guiche as Louise by Bragelonne. Raoul interpreted Madame Henrietta’s look.

“Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Madame; in your presence I know I ought to have greater self-control. But Heaven grant that you may never be struck by similar misery to that which crushes me at this moment, for you are but a woman, and would not be able to endure so terrible an affliction. Forgive me, I again entreat you, Madame; I am but a man without rank or position, while you belong to a race whose happiness knows no bounds, whose power acknowledges no limit.”

“Monsieur de Bragelonne,” replied Henrietta, “a mind such as yours merits all the consideration and respect which a queen’s heart even can bestow. Regard me as your friend, Monsieur; and as such, indeed, I would not allow your whole life to be poisoned by perfidy, and covered with ridicule. It was I, indeed, who, with more courage than any of your pretended friends⁠—I except M. de Guiche⁠—was the cause of your return from London; it is I, also, who now give you the melancholy proofs, necessary, however, for your cure if you are a lover with courage in his heart, and not a weeping Amadis. Do not thank me; pity me, even, and do not serve the king less faithfully than you have done.”

Raoul smiled bitterly. “Ah! true, true; I was forgetting that; the king is my master.”

“Your liberty, nay, your very life, is in danger.”

A steady, penetrating look informed Madame Henrietta that she was mistaken, and that her last argument was not a likely one to affect the young man. “Take care, Monsieur de Bragelonne,” she said, “for if you do not weigh well all your actions, you might throw into an extravagance of wrath a prince whose passions, once aroused, exceed the bounds of reason, and you would thereby involve your friends and family in the deepest distress; you must bend, you must submit, and you must cure yourself.”

“I thank you, Madame; I appreciate the advice Your Royal Highness is good enough to give me, and I will endeavor to follow it; but one final word, I beg.”

“Name it.”

“Should I be indiscreet in asking you the secret of this staircase, of this trapdoor; a secret, which, it seems, you have discovered?”

“Nothing more simple. For the purpose of exercising a surveillance over the young girls who are attached to my service, I have duplicate keys of their doors. It seemed very strange to me that M. de Saint-Aignan should change his apartments. It seemed very strange that the king should come to see M. de Saint-Aignan every day, and, finally, it seemed very strange that so many things should be done during your absence, that the very habits and customs of the court appeared changed. I do not wish to be trifled with by the king, nor to serve as a cloak for his love affairs; for after La Vallière, who weeps incessantly, he will take a fancy to Montalais, who is always laughing; and then to Tonnay-Charente, who does nothing but sing all day; to act such a part as that would be unworthy of me. I thrust aside the scruples which my friendship for you suggested. I discovered the secret. I have wounded your feelings, I know, and I again entreat you to pardon me; but I had a duty to fulfil. I have discharged it. You are now forewarned; the tempest will soon burst; protect yourself accordingly.”

“You naturally expect, however, that a result of some kind must follow,” replied Bragelonne, with firmness; “for you do not suppose I shall silently accept the shame thus thrust upon me, or the treachery which has been practiced against me?”

“You will take whatever steps in the matter you please, Monsieur Raoul, only do not betray the source whence you derived the truth. That is all I have to ask⁠—the only price I require for the service I have rendered you.”

“Fear nothing, Madame,” said Bragelonne, with a bitter smile.

“I bribed the locksmith, in whom the lovers confided. You can just as well have done so as myself, can you not?”

“Yes, Madame. Your Royal Highness, however, has no other advice or caution to give me, except that of not betraying you?”

“None.”

“I am about, therefore, to beg Your Royal Highness to allow me to remain here for one moment.”

“Without me?”

“Oh! no, Madame. It matters very little; for what I have to do can be done in your presence. I only ask one moment to write a line to someone.”

“It is dangerous, Monsieur de Bragelonne. Take care.”

“No one can possibly know that Your Royal Highness has done me the honor to conduct me here. Besides, I shall sign the letter I am going to write.”

“Do as you please, then.”

Raoul drew out his tablet, and wrote rapidly on one of the leaves the following words:

“Monsieur le Comte⁠—Do not be surprised to find this paper signed by me; the friend I shall very shortly send to call on you will have the honor to explain the object of my visit.
“Vicomte Raoul de Bragelonne.”

He rolled up the paper, slipped it into the lock of the door which communicated with the room set apart for the two lovers, and satisfied himself that the missive was so apparent that Saint-Aignan could not but see it as he entered; he rejoined the princess, who had already reached the top of the staircase. They then separated, Raoul pretending to thank Her Highness; Henrietta pitying, or seeming to pity, with all her heart, the wretched young man she had just condemned to such fearful torture. “Oh!” she said, as she saw him disappear, pale as death, and his eyes bursting with blood, “if I had foreseen this, I would have hid the truth from that poor gentleman.”

CHAPTER 15

Porthos’s Plan of Action
The great number of individuals we have introduced into this long story is the reason why each of them has been forced to appear only in turn, according to the exigencies of the recital. The result is, that our readers have had no opportunity of meeting our friend Porthos since his return from Fontainebleau. The honors which he had received from the king had not changed the easy, affectionate character of that excellent-hearted man; he may, perhaps, have held up his head a little higher than usual, and a majesty of demeanor, as it were, may have betrayed itself since the honor of dining at the king’s table had been accorded him. His Majesty’s banqueting-room had produced a certain effect on Porthos. Le Seigneur de Bracieux et de Pierrefonds delighted to remember that, during that memorable dinner, the numerous array of servants, and the large number of officials in attendance on the guests, gave a certain tone and effect to the repast, and seemed, as it were, to furnish the room. Porthos undertook to confer upon Mouston a position of some kind or other, in order to establish a sort of hierarchy among his other domestics, and to create a military household, which was not unusual among the great captains of the age, since, in the preceding century, this luxury had been greatly encouraged by Messieurs de Tréville, de Schomberg, de la Vieuville, without alluding to M. de Richelieu, M. de Condé, and de Bouillon-Turenne. And, therefore, why should not he, Porthos, the friend of the king, and of M. Fouquet, a baron, and engineer, etc., why should not he, indeed, enjoy all the delightful privileges which large possessions and unusual merit invariably confer? Somewhat neglected by Aramis, who, we know, was greatly occupied with M. Fouquet; neglected, also, on account of his being on duty, by d’Artagnan; tired of Trüchen and Planchet, Porthos was surprised to find himself dreaming, without precisely knowing why; but if anyone had said to him, “Do you want anything, Porthos?” he would most certainly have replied, “Yes.” After one of those dinners, during which Porthos attempted to recall to his recollection all the details of the royal banquet, gently joyful, thanks to the excellence of the wines; gently melancholy, thanks to his ambitious ideas, Porthos was gradually falling off into a placid doze, when his servant entered to announce that M. de Bragelonne wished to speak to him. Porthos passed into an adjoining room, where he found his young friend in the disposition of mind we are already aware of. Raoul advanced towards Porthos, and shook him by the hand; Porthos, surprised at his seriousness of aspect, offered him a seat. “Dear M. du Vallon,” said Raoul, “I have a service to ask of you.”

“Nothing could happen more fortunately, my young friend,” replied Porthos; “I have eight thousand livres sent me this morning from Pierrefonds; and if you want any money⁠—”

“No, I thank you; it is not money.”

“So much the worse, then. I have always heard it said that that is the rarest service, but the easiest to render. The remark struck me; I like to cite remarks that strike me.”

“Your heart is as good as your mind is sound and true.”

“You are much too kind, I declare. You will dine here, of course?”

“No; I am not hungry.”

“Eh! not dine? What a dreadful country England is!”

“Not too much so, indeed⁠—but⁠—”

“Well, if such excellent fish and meat were not to be procured there, it would hardly be endurable.”

“Yes, I came to⁠—”

“I am listening. Only just allow me to take a little sip. One gets thirsty in Paris”; and he ordered a bottle of champagne to be brought; and, having first filled Raoul’s glass, he filled his own, drank it down at a gulp, and then resumed: “I needed that, in order to listen to you with proper attention. I am now entirely at your service. What do you wish to ask me, dear Raoul? What do you want?”

“Give me your opinion on quarrels in general, my dear friend.”

“My opinion! Well⁠—but⁠—Explain your idea a little more coherently,” replied Porthos, rubbing his forehead.

“I mean⁠—you are generally good-humored, good-tempered, whenever any misunderstanding arises between a friend of yours and a stranger, for instance?”

“Oh! in the best of tempers.”

“Very good; but what do you do, in such a case?”

“Whenever any friend of mine gets into a quarrel, I always act on one principle.”

“What is that?”

“That lost time is irreparable, and one never arranges an affair so well as when everything has been done to embroil the disputants as much as possible.”

“Ah! indeed, is that the principle on which you proceed?”

“Precisely; so, as soon as a quarrel takes place, I bring the two parties together.”

“Exactly.”

“You understand that by this means it is impossible for an affair not to be arranged.”

“I should have thought that, treated in this manner, an affair would, on the contrary⁠—”

“Oh! not the least in the world. Just fancy, now, I have had in my life something like a hundred and eighty to a hundred and ninety regular duels, without reckoning hasty encounters, or chance meetings.”

“It is a very handsome aggregate,” said Raoul, unable to resist a smile.

“A mere nothing; but I am so gentle. D’Artagnan reckons his duels by hundreds. It is very true he is a little too hard and sharp⁠—I have often told him so.”

“And so,” resumed Raoul, “you generally arrange the affairs of honor your friends confide to you.”

“There is not a single instance in which I have not finished by arranging every one of them,” said Porthos, with a gentleness and confidence that surprised Raoul.

“But the way in which you settle them is at least honorable, I suppose?”

“Oh! rely upon that; and at this stage, I will explain my other principle to you. As soon as my friend has entrusted his quarrel to me, this is what I do; I go to his adversary at once, armed with a politeness and self-possession absolutely requisite under such circumstances.”

“That is the way, then,” said Raoul, bitterly, “that you arrange affairs so safely.”

“I believe you. I go to the adversary, then, and say to him: ‘It is impossible, Monsieur, that you are ignorant of the extent to which you have insulted my friend.’ ” Raoul frowned at this remark.

“It sometimes happens⁠—very often, indeed,” pursued Porthos⁠—“that my friend has not been insulted at all; he has even been the first to give offense; you can imagine, therefore, whether my language is or is not well chosen.” And Porthos burst into a peal of laughter.

Decidedly, said Raoul to himself while the merry thunder of Porthos’s laughter was resounding in his ears, I am very unfortunate. De Guiche treats me with coolness, d’Artagnan with ridicule, Porthos is too tame; no one will settle this affair in the only way I wish it to be settled. And I came to Porthos because I wanted to find a sword instead of cold reasoning at my service. My ill-luck dogs me.

Porthos, who had recovered himself, continued: “By one simple expression, I leave my adversary without an excuse.”

“That is as it may happen,” said Raoul, absently.

“Not at all, it is quite certain. I have not left him an excuse; and then it is that I display all my courtesy, in order to attain the happy issue of my project. I advance, therefore, with an air of great politeness, and taking my adversary by the hand, I say to him: ‘Now that you are convinced of having given the offense, we are sure of reparation; between my friend and yourself, the future can only offer an exchange of mutual courtesies of conduct, and consequently, my mission now is to acquaint you with the length of my friend’s sword.’ ”

“What!” said Raoul.

“Wait a minute. ‘The length of my friend’s sword. My horse is waiting below; my friend is in such and such a spot and is impatiently awaiting your agreeable society; I will take you with me; we can call upon your second as we go along’: and the affair is arranged.”

“And so,” said Raoul, pale with vexation, “you reconcile the two adversaries on the ground.”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted Porthos. “Reconcile! What for?”

“You said that the affair was arranged.”

“Of course! since my friend is waiting for him.”

“Well! what then? If he is waiting⁠—”

“Well! if he is waiting, it is merely to stretch his legs a little. The adversary, on the contrary, is stiff from riding; they place themselves in proper order, and my friend kills the opponent, and the affair is ended.”

“Ah! he kills him, then?” cried Raoul.

“I should think so,” said Porthos. “Is it likely I should ever have as a friend a man who allows himself to get killed? I have a hundred and one friends; at the head of the list stand your father, Aramis, and d’Artagnan, all of whom are living and well, I believe.”

“Oh, my dear baron,” exclaimed Raoul, as he embraced Porthos.

“You approve of my method, then?” said the giant.

“I approve of it so thoroughly, that I shall have recourse to it this very day, without a moment’s delay⁠—at once, in fact. You are the very man I have been looking for.”

“Good; here I am, then; you want to fight, I suppose?”

“Absolutely.”

“It is very natural. With whom?”

“With M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“I know him⁠—a most agreeable man, who was exceedingly polite to me the day I had the honor of dining with the king. I shall certainly acknowledge his politeness in return, even if it had not happened to be my usual custom. So, he has given you an offense?”

“A mortal offense.”

“The deuce! I can say so, I suppose?”

“More than that, even, if you like.”

“That is a very great convenience.”

“I may look upon it as one of your arranged affairs, may I not?” said Raoul, smiling.

“As a matter of course. Where will you be waiting for him?”

“Ah! I forgot; it is a very delicate matter. M. de Saint-Aignan is a very great friend of the king’s.”

“So I have heard it said.”

“So that if I kill him⁠—”

“Oh! you will kill him, certainly; you must take every precaution to do so. But there is no difficulty in these matters now; if you had lived in our early days⁠—ah, those were days worth living for!”

“My dear friend, you do not quite understand me. I mean, that M. de Saint-Aignan being a friend of the king, the affair will be more difficult to manage, since the king might learn beforehand⁠—”

“Oh! no; that is not likely. You know my method: ‘Monsieur, you have just injured my friend, and⁠—’ ”

“Yes, I know it.”

“And then: ‘Monsieur, I have horses below.’ I carry him off before he can have spoken to anyone.”

“Will he allow himself to be carried off like that?”

“I should think so! I should like to see it fail. It would be the first time, if it did. It is true, though, that the young men of the present day⁠—Bah! I would carry him off bodily, if that were all,” and Porthos, adding gesture to speech, lifted Raoul and the chair he was sitting on off the ground, and carried them round the room.

“Very good,” said Raoul, laughing. “All we have to do is to state the grounds of the quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“Well, but that is done, it seems.”

“No, my dear M. du Vallon, the usage of the present day requires that the cause of the quarrel should be explained.”

“Very good. Tell me what it is, then.”

“The fact is⁠—”

“Deuce take it! how troublesome all this is! In former days we had no occasion to say anything about the matter. People fought for the sake of fighting; and I, for one, know no better reason than that.”

“You are quite right, M. du Vallon.”

“However, tell me what the cause is.”

“It is too long a story to tell; only, as one must particularize to a certain extent, and as, on the other hand, the affair is full of difficulties, and requires the most absolute secrecy, you will have the kindness merely to tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has, in the first place, insulted me by changing his lodgings.”

“By changing his lodgings? Good,” said Porthos, who began to count on his fingers; “next?”

“Then in getting a trapdoor made in his new apartments.”

“I understand,” said Porthos; “a trapdoor: upon my word, that is very serious; you ought to be furious at that. What the deuce does the fellow mean by getting trapdoors made without first consulting you? Trapdoors! mordioux! I haven’t got any, except in my dungeons at Bracieux.”

“And you will please add,” said Raoul, “that my last motive for considering myself insulted is, the existence of the portrait that M. de Saint-Aignan well knows.”

“Is it possible? A portrait, too! A change of residence, a trapdoor, and a portrait! Why, my dear friend, with but one of these causes of complaint there is enough, and more than enough, for all the gentlemen in France and Spain to cut each other’s throats, and that is saying but very little.”

“Well, my dear friend, you are furnished with all you need, I suppose?”

“I shall take a second horse with me. Select your own rendezvous, and while you are waiting there, you can practice some of the best passes, so as to get your limbs as elastic as possible.”

“Thank you. I shall be waiting for you in the wood of Vincennes, close to Minimes.”

“All goes well, then. Where am I to find this M. de Saint-Aignan?”

“At the Palais Royal.”

Porthos ran a huge hand-bell. “My court suit,” he said to the servant who answered the summons, “my horse, and a led horse to accompany me.” Then turning to Raoul, as soon as the servant had quitted the room, he said: “Does your father know anything about this?”

“No; I am going to write to him.”

“And d’Artagnan?”

“No, nor d’Artagnan either. He is very cautious, you know, and might have diverted me from my purpose.”

“D’Artagnan is a sound adviser, though,” said Porthos, astonished that, in his own loyal faith in d’Artagnan, anyone could have thought of himself, so long as there was a d’Artagnan in the world.

“Dear M. du Vallon,” said Raoul, “do not question me any more, I implore you. I have told you all that I had to say; it is prompt action I now expect, sharp and decided as you know how to arrange it. That, indeed, is my reason for having chosen you.”

“You will be satisfied with me,” replied Porthos.

“Do not forget, either, that, except ourselves, no one must know anything of this meeting.”

“People generally find these things out,” said Porthos, dryly, “when a dead body is discovered in a wood. But I promise everything, my dear friend, except the concealment of the dead body. There it is, and it must be seen, as a matter of course. It is a principle of mine, not to bury bodies. That has a smack of the assassin about it. Every risk has its peculiarities.”

“To work, then, my dear friend.”

“Rely upon me,” said the giant, finishing the bottle, while a servant spread out upon a sofa the gorgeously decorated dress trimmed with lace.

Raoul left the room, saying to himself, with a secret delight, Perfidious king! traitorous monarch! I cannot reach thee. I do not wish it; for kings are sacred objects. But your friend, your accomplice, your panderer⁠—the coward who represents you⁠—shall pay for your crime. I will kill him in thy name, and, afterwards, we will bethink ourselves of⁠—Louise.

CHAPTER 16

The Change of Residence, the Trapdoor, and the Portrait
Porthos, entrusted, to his great delight, with this mission, which made him feel young again, took half an hour less than his usual time to put on his court suit. To show that he was a man acquainted with the usages of high society, he had begun by sending his lackey to inquire if Monsieur de Saint-Aignan were at home, and heard, in answer, that M. le Comte de Saint-Aignan had had the honor of accompanying the king to Saint-Germain, as well as the whole court; but that Monsieur le Comte had just that moment returned. Immediately upon this reply, Porthos made as much haste as possible, and reached Saint-Aignan’s apartments just as the latter was having his boots taken off. The promenade had been delightful. The king, who was in love more than ever, and of course happier than ever, behaved in the most charming manner to everyone. Nothing could possibly equal his kindness. M. de Saint-Aignan, it may be remembered, was a poet, and fancied that he had proved that he was so under too many a memorable circumstance to allow the title to be disputed by anyone. An indefatigable rhymester, he had, during the whole of the journey, overwhelmed with quatrains, sextains, and madrigals, first the king, and then La Vallière. The king, on his side, was in a similarly poetical mood, and had made a distich; while La Vallière, delighting in poetry, as most women do who are in love, had composed two sonnets. The day, then, had not been a bad one for Apollo; and so, as soon as he had returned to Paris, Saint-Aignan, who knew beforehand that his verse would be sure to be extensively circulated in court circles, occupied himself, with a little more attention than he had been able to bestow during the promenade, with the composition, as well as with the idea itself. Consequently, with all the tenderness of a father about to start his children in life, he candidly interrogated himself whether the public would find these offsprings of his imagination sufficiently elegant and graceful; and in order to make his mind easy on the subject, M. de Saint-Aignan recited to himself the madrigal he had composed, and which he had repeated from memory to the king, and had promised to write out for him on his return. All the time he was committing these words to memory, the comte was engaged in undressing himself more completely. He had just taken off his coat, and was putting on his dressing-gown, when he was informed that Monsieur le Baron du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds was waiting to be received.

“Eh!” he said, “what does that bunch of names mean? I don’t know anything about him.”

“It is the same gentleman,” replied the lackey, “who had the honor of dining with you, Monseigneur, at the king’s table, when His Majesty was staying at Fontainebleau.”

“Introduce him, then, at once,” cried Saint-Aignan.

Porthos, in a few minutes, entered the room. M. de Saint-Aignan had an excellent recollection of persons, and, at the first glance, he recognized the gentleman from the country, who enjoyed so singular a reputation, and whom the king had received so favorably at Fontainebleau, in spite of the smiles of some of those who were present. He therefore advanced towards Porthos with all the outward signs of consideration of manner which Porthos thought but natural, considering that he himself, whenever he called upon an adversary, hoisted a standard of the most refined politeness. Saint-Aignan desired the servant to give Porthos a chair; and the latter, who saw nothing unusual in this act of politeness, sat down gravely and coughed. The ordinary courtesies having been exchanged between the two gentlemen, the comte, to whom the visit was paid, said, “May I ask, Monsieur le Baron, to what happy circumstance I am indebted for the favor of a visit from you?”

“The very thing I am about to have the honor of explaining to you, Monsieur le Comte; but, I beg your pardon⁠—”

“What is the matter, Monsieur?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“I regret to say that I have broken your chair.”

“Not at all, Monsieur,” said Saint-Aignan; “not at all.”

“It is the fact, though, Monsieur le Comte; I have broken it⁠—so much so, indeed, that if I do not move, I shall fall down, which would be an exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very serious mission which has been entrusted to me with regard to yourself.”

Porthos rose; and but just in time, for the chair had given way several inches. Saint-Aignan looked about him for something more solid for his guest to sit upon.

“Modern articles of furniture,” said Porthos, while the comte was looking about, “are constructed in a ridiculously flimsy manner. In my early days, when I used to sit down with far more energy than is now the case, I do not remember ever to have broken a chair, except in taverns, with my arms.”

Saint-Aignan smiled at this remark. “But,” said Porthos, as he settled himself down on a couch, which creaked, but did not give way beneath his weight, “that unfortunately has nothing whatever to do with my present visit.”

“Why unfortunately? Are you the bearer of a message of ill-omen, Monsieur le Baron?”

“Of ill-omen⁠—for a gentleman? Certainly not, Monsieur le Comte,” replied Porthos, nobly. “I have simply come to say that you have seriously insulted a friend of mine.”

“I, Monsieur?” exclaimed Saint-Aignan⁠—“I have insulted a friend of yours, do you say? May I ask his name?”

“M. Raoul de Bragelonne.”

“I have insulted M. Raoul de Bragelonne!” cried Saint-Aignan. “I really assure you, Monsieur, that it is quite impossible; for M. de Bragelonne, whom I know but very slightly⁠—nay, whom I know hardly at all⁠—is in England, and, as I have not seen him for a long time past, I cannot possibly have insulted him.”

“M. de Bragelonne is in Paris, Monsieur le Comte,” said Porthos, perfectly unmoved; “and I repeat, it is quite certain you have insulted him, since he himself told me you had. Yes, Monsieur, you have seriously insulted him, mortally insulted him, I repeat.”

“It is impossible, Monsieur le Baron, I swear, quite impossible.”

“Besides,” added Porthos, “you cannot be ignorant of the circumstance, since M. de Bragelonne informed me that he had already apprised you of it by a note.”

“I give you my word of honor, Monsieur, that I have received no note whatever.”

“This is most extraordinary,” replied Porthos.

“I will convince you,” said Saint-Aignan, “that have received nothing in any way from him.” And he rang the bell. “Basque,” he said to the servant who entered, “how many letters or notes were sent here during my absence?”

“Three, Monsieur le Comte⁠—a note from M. de Fiesque, one from Madame de Laferté, and a letter from M. de las Fuentès.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, Monsieur le Comte.”

“Speak the truth before this gentleman⁠—the truth, you understand. I will take care you are not blamed.”

“There was a note, also, from⁠—from⁠—”

“Well, from whom?”

“From Mademoiselle⁠—de⁠—”

“Out with it!”

“De Laval.”

“That is quite sufficient,” interrupted Porthos. “I believe you, Monsieur le Comte.”

Saint-Aignan dismissed the valet, and followed him to the door, in order to close it after him; and when he had done so, looking straight before him, he happened to see in the keyhole of the adjoining apartment the paper which Bragelonne had slipped in there as he left. “What is this?” he said.

Porthos, who was sitting with his back to the room, turned round. “Aha!” he said.

“A note in the keyhole!” exclaimed Saint-Aignan.

“That is not unlikely to be the missing letter, Monsieur le Comte,” said Porthos.

Saint-Aignan took out the paper. “A note from M. de Bragelonne!” he exclaimed.

“You see, Monsieur, I was right. Oh, when I say a thing⁠—”

“Brought here by M. de Bragelonne himself,” the comte murmured, turning pale. “This is infamous! How could he possibly have come here?” And the comte rang again.

“Who has been here during my absence with the king?”

“No one, Monsieur.”

“That is impossible! Someone must have been here.”

“No one could possibly have entered, Monsieur, since the keys have never left my pocket.”

“And yet I find the letter in yonder lock; someone must have put it there; it could not have come here of its own accord.”

Basque opened his arms as if signifying the most absolute ignorance on the subject.

“Probably it was M. de Bragelonne himself who placed it there,” said Porthos.

“In that case he must have entered here.”

“How could that have been, since I have the key in my own pocket?” returned Basque, perseveringly.

Saint-Aignan crumpled the letter in his palm, after having read it. “There is something mysterious about this,” he murmured, absorbed in thought. Porthos left him to his reflections; but after a while returned to the mission he had undertaken.

“Shall we return to our little affair?” Porthos resumed, addressing Saint-Aignan after a brief pause.

“I think I can now understand it, from this note, which has arrived here in so singular a manner. Monsieur de Bragelonne says that a friend will call.”

“I am his friend. I am the person he alludes to.”

“For the purpose of giving me a challenge?”

“Precisely.”

“And he complains that I have insulted him?”

“Mortally.”

“In what way, may I ask; for his conduct is so mysterious, that, at least, it needs some explanation?”

“Monsieur,” replied Porthos, “my friend cannot but be right; and, as far as his conduct is concerned, if it be mysterious, as you say, you have only yourself to blame for it.” Porthos pronounced these words with an amount of confidence which, for a man who was unaccustomed to his ways, must have revealed an infinity of sense.

“Mystery, so be it; but what is all the mystery about?” said Saint-Aignan.

“You will think it the best, perhaps,” Porthos replied, with a low bow, “if I do not enter in to particulars.”

“Oh, I perfectly understand. We will touch very lightly upon it, then, so speak, Monsieur, I am listening.”

“In the first place, Monsieur,” said Porthos, “you have changed your apartments.”

“Yes, that is quite true,” said Saint-Aignan.

“You admit it,” said Porthos, with an air of satisfaction.

“Admit it! of course I admit it. Why should I not admit it, do you suppose?”

“You have admitted it. Very good,” said Porthos, lifting up one finger.

“But how can my having moved my lodgings have done M. de Bragelonne any harm? Have the goodness to tell me that, for I positively do not comprehend a word of what you are saying.”

Porthos stopped him, and then said, with great gravity, “Monsieur, this is the first of M. de Bragelonne’s complaints against you. If he makes a complaint, it is because he feels himself insulted.”

Saint-Aignan began to beat his foot impatiently on the ground. “This looks like a spurious quarrel,” he said.

“No one can possibly have a spurious quarrel with the Vicomte de Bragelonne,” returned Porthos; “but, at all events, you have nothing to add on the subject of your changing your apartments, I suppose?”

“Nothing. And what is the next point?”

“Ah, the next! You will observe, Monsieur, that the one I have already mentioned is a most serious injury, to which you have given no answer, or rather, have answered very indifferently. Is it possible, Monsieur, that you have changed your lodgings? M. de Bragelonne feels insulted at your having done so, and you do not attempt to excuse yourself.”

“What!” cried Saint-Aignan, who was getting annoyed at the perfect coolness of his visitor⁠—“what! am I to consult M. de Bragelonne whether I am to move or not? You can hardly be serious, Monsieur.”

“I am. And it is absolutely necessary, Monsieur; but under any circumstances, you will admit that it is nothing in comparison with the second ground of complaint.”

“Well, what is that?”

Porthos assumed a very solemn expression as he said: “How about the trapdoor, Monsieur?”

Saint-Aignan turned exceedingly pale. He pushed back his chair so abruptly, that Porthos, simple as he was, perceived that the blow had told. “The trapdoor,” murmured Saint-Aignan.

“Yes, Monsieur, explain that if you can,” said Porthos, shaking his head.

Saint-Aignan held down his head, as he murmured: “I have been betrayed, everything is known!”

“Everything,” replied Porthos, who knew nothing.

“You see me perfectly overwhelmed,” pursued Saint-Aignan, “overwhelmed to a degree that I hardly know what I am about.”

“A guilty conscience, Monsieur. Your affair is a bad one, and when the public learns all about it, it will judge⁠—”

“Oh, Monsieur!” exclaimed the count, hurriedly, “such a secret ought not to be known even by one’s confessor.”

“That we will think about,” said Porthos; “the secret will not go far, in fact.”

“Surely, Monsieur,” returned Saint-Aignan, “since M. de Bragelonne has penetrated the secret, he must be aware of the danger he as well as others run the risk of incurring.”

“M. de Bragelonne runs no danger, Monsieur, nor does he fear any either, as you, if it please Heaven, will find out very soon.”

This fellow is a perfect madman, thought Saint-Aignan. What, in Heaven’s name, does he want? He then said aloud: “Come, Monsieur, let us hush up this affair.”

“You forget the portrait,” said Porthos, in a voice of thunder, which made the comte’s blood freeze in his veins.

As the portrait in question was La Vallière’s portrait, and no mistake could any longer exist on the subject, Saint-Aignan’s eyes were completely opened. “Ah!” he exclaimed⁠—“ah! Monsieur, I remember now that M. de Bragelonne was engaged to be married to her.”

Porthos assumed an imposing air, all the majesty of ignorance, in fact, as he said: “It matters nothing whatever to me, nor to yourself, indeed, whether or not my friend was, as you say, engaged to be married. I am even astonished that you should have made use of so indiscreet a remark. It may possibly do your cause harm, Monsieur.”

“Monsieur,” replied Saint-Aignan, “you are the incarnation of intelligence, delicacy, and loyalty of feeling united. I see the whole matter now clearly enough.”

“So much the better,” said Porthos.

“And,” pursued Saint-Aignan, “you have made me comprehend it in the most ingenious and the most delicate manner possible. I beg you to accept my best thanks.” Porthos drew himself up, unable to resist the flattery of the remark. “Only, now that I know everything, permit me to explain⁠—”

Porthos shook his head, as a man who does not wish to hear, but Saint-Aignan continued: “I am in despair, I assure you, at all that has happened; but how would you have acted in my place? Come, between ourselves, tell me what you would have done?”

Porthos drew himself up as he answered: “There is now no question at all of what I should have done, young man; you have been made acquainted with the three causes of complaint against you, I believe?”

“As for the first, my change of rooms, and I now address myself to you as a man of honor and of great intelligence, could I, when the desire of so august a personage was so urgently expressed that I should move, ought I to have disobeyed?”

Porthos was about to speak, but Saint-Aignan did not give him time to answer. “Ah! my frankness, I see, convinces you,” he said, interpreting the movement according to his own fancy. “You feel that I am right.”

Porthos did not reply, and so Saint-Aignan continued: “I pass by that unfortunate trapdoor,” he said, placing his hand on Porthos’s arm, “that trapdoor, the occasion and means of so much unhappiness, and which was constructed for⁠—you know what. Well, then, in plain truth, do you suppose that it was I who, of my own accord, in such a place, too, had that trapdoor made?⁠—Oh, no!⁠—you do not believe it; and here, again, you feel, you guess, you understand the influence of a will superior to my own. You can conceive the infatuation, the blind, irresistible passion which has been at work. But, thank Heaven! I am fortunate in speaking to a man who has so much sensitiveness of feeling; and if it were not so, indeed, what an amount of misery and scandal would fall upon her, poor girl! and upon him⁠—whom I will not name.”

Porthos, confused and bewildered by the eloquence and gestures of Saint-Aignan, made a thousand efforts to stem this torrent of words, of which, by the by, he did not understand a single one; he remained upright and motionless on his seat, and that was all he could do. Saint-Aignan continued, and gave a new inflection to his voice, and an increasing vehemence to his gesture: “As for the portrait, for I readily believe the portrait is the principal cause of complaint, tell me candidly if you think me to blame?⁠—Who was it who wished to have her portrait? Was it I?⁠—Who is in love with her? Is it I?⁠—Who wishes to gain her affection? Again, is it I?⁠—Who took her likeness? I, do you think? No! a thousand times no! I know M. de Bragelonne must be in a state of despair; I know these misfortunes are most cruel. But I, too, am suffering as well; and yet there is no possibility of offering any resistance. Suppose we were to fight? we would be laughed at. If he obstinately persist in his course, he is lost. You will tell me, I know, that despair is ridiculous, but then you are a sensible man. You have understood me. I perceived by your serious, thoughtful, embarrassed air, even, that the importance of the situation we are placed in has not escaped you. Return, therefore, to M. de Bragelonne; thank him⁠—as I have indeed reason to thank him⁠—for having chosen as an intermediary a man of your high merit. Believe me that I shall, on my side, preserve an eternal gratitude for the man who has so ingeniously, so cleverly arranged the misunderstanding between us. And since ill luck would have it that the secret should be known to four instead of three, why, this secret, which might make the most ambitious man’s fortune, I am delighted to share with you, Monsieur, from the bottom of my heart I am delighted at it. From this very moment you can make use of me as you please, I place myself entirely at your mercy. What can I possibly do for you? What can I solicit, nay, require even? You have only to speak, Monsieur, only to speak.”

And, according to the familiarly friendly fashion of that period, Saint-Aignan threw his arms round Porthos, and clasped him tenderly in his embrace. Porthos allowed him to do this with the most perfect indifference. “Speak,” resumed Saint-Aignan, “what do you require?”

“Monsieur,” said Porthos, “I have a horse below: be good enough to mount him; he is a very good one and will play you no tricks.”

“Mount on horseback! what for?” inquired Saint-Aignan, with no little curiosity.

“To accompany me to where M. de Bragelonne is waiting us.”

“Ah! he wishes to speak to me, I suppose? I can well believe that; he wishes to have the details, very likely; alas! it is a very delicate matter; but at the present moment I cannot, for the king is waiting for me.”

“The king must wait, then,” said Porthos.

“What do you say? the king must wait!” interrupted the finished courtier, with a smile of utter amazement, for he could not understand that the king could under any circumstances be supposed to have to wait.

“It is merely the affair of a very short hour,” returned Porthos.

“But where is M. de Bragelonne waiting for me?”

“At the Minimes, at Vincennes.”

“Ah, indeed! but are we going to laugh over the affair when we get there?”

“I don’t think it likely,” said Porthos, as his face assumed a look of utter hardness.

“But the Minimes is a rendezvous where duels take place, and what can I have to do at the Minimes?”

Porthos slowly drew his sword, and said: “That is the length of my friend’s sword.”

“Why, the man is mad!” cried Saint-Aignan.

The color mounted to Porthos’s face, as he replied: “If I had not the honor of being in your own apartment, Monsieur, and of representing M. de Bragelonne’s interests, I would throw you out of the window. It will be merely a pleasure postponed, and you will lose nothing by waiting. Will you come with me to the Minimes, Monsieur, of your own free will?”

“But⁠—”

“Take care, I will carry you if you do not come quickly.”

“Basque!” cried Saint-Aignan. As soon as Basque appeared, he said, “The king wishes to see Monsieur le Comte.”

“That is very different,” said Porthos; “the king’s service before anything else. We will wait until this evening, Monsieur.”

And saluting Saint-Aignan with his usual courtesy, Porthos left the room, delighted at having arranged another affair. Saint-Aignan looked after him as he left; and then hastily putting on his court dress again, he ran off, arranging his costume as he went along, muttering to himself, “The Minimes! the Minimes! We shall see how the king will fancy this challenge; for it is for him after all, that is certain.”

CHAPTER 17

Rivals in Politics
On his return from the promenade, which had been so prolific in poetical effusions, and in which everyone had paid his or her tribute to the Muses, as the poets of the period used to say, the king found M. Fouquet waiting for an audience. M. Colbert had lain in wait for His Majesty in the corridor, and followed him like a jealous and watchful shadow; M. Colbert, with his square head, his vulgar and untidy, though rich costume, somewhat resembled a Flemish gentleman after he had been overindulging in his national drink⁠—beer. Fouquet, at sight of his enemy, remained perfectly unmoved, and during the whole of the scene which followed scrupulously resolved to observe a line of conduct particularly difficult to the man of superior mind, who does not even wish to show his contempt, for fear of doing his adversary too much honor. Colbert made no attempt to conceal his insolent expression of the vulgar joy he felt. In his opinion, M. Fouquet’s was a game very badly played and hopelessly lost, although not yet finished. Colbert belonged to that school of politicians who think cleverness alone worthy of their admiration, and success the only thing worth caring for. Colbert, moreover, who was not simply an envious and jealous man, but who had the king’s interest really at heart, because he was thoroughly imbued with the highest sense of probity in all matters of figures and accounts, could well afford to assign as a pretext for his conduct, that in hating and doing his utmost to ruin M. Fouquet, he had nothing in view but the welfare of the state and the dignity of the crown. None of these details escaped Fouquet’s observation; through his enemy’s thick, bushy brows, and despite the restless movement of his eyelids, he could, by merely looking at his eyes, penetrate to the very bottom of Colbert’s heart, and he read to what an unbounded extent hate towards himself and triumph at his approaching fall existed there. But as, in observing everything, he wished to remain himself impenetrable, he composed his features, smiled with the charmingly sympathetic smile that was peculiarly his own, and saluted the king with the most dignified and graceful ease and elasticity of manner. “Sire,” he said, “I perceive by Your Majesty’s joyous air that you have been gratified with the promenade.”

“Most gratified, indeed, Monsieur le Surintendant, most gratified. You were very wrong not to come with us, as I invited you to do.”

“I was working, sire,” replied the superintendent, who did not even seem to take the trouble to turn aside his head in merest recognition of Colbert’s presence.

“Ah! M. Fouquet,” cried the king, “there is nothing like the country. I should be delighted to live in the country always, in the open air and under the trees.”

“I should hope that Your Majesty is not yet weary of the throne,” said Fouquet.

“No; but thrones of soft turf are very pleasant.”

“Your Majesty gratifies my utmost wishes in speaking in that manner, for I have a request to submit to you.”

“On whose behalf, Monsieur?”

“Oh behalf of the nymphs of Vaux, sire.”

“Ah! ah!” said Louis XIV.

“Your Majesty, too, once deigned to make me a promise,” said Fouquet.

“Yes, I remember it.”

“The fête at Vaux, the celebrated fête, I think, it was, sire,” said Colbert, endeavoring to show his importance by taking part in the conversation.

Fouquet, with the profoundest contempt, did not take the slightest notice of the remark, as if, as far as he was concerned, Colbert had not even thought or said a word.

“Your Majesty is aware,” he said, “that I destine my estate at Vaux to receive the most amiable of princes, the most powerful of monarchs.”

“I have given you my promise, Monsieur,” said Louis XIV, smiling; “and a king never departs from his word.”

“And I have come now, sire, to inform Your Majesty that I am ready to obey your orders in every respect.”

“Do you promise me many wonders, Monsieur le Surintendant?” said Louis, looking at Colbert.

“Wonders? Oh! no, sire. I do not undertake that. I hope to be able to procure Your Majesty a little pleasure, perhaps even a little forgetfulness of the cares of state.”

“Nay, nay, M. Fouquet,” returned the king; “I insist upon the word ‘wonders.’ You are a magician, I believe; we all know the power you wield; we also know that you can find gold even when there is none to be found elsewhere; so much so, indeed, that people say you coin it.”

Fouquet felt that the shot was discharged from a double quiver, and that the king had launched an arrow from his own bow as well as one from Colbert’s. “Oh!” said he, laughingly, “the people know perfectly well out of what mine I procure the gold; and they know it only too well, perhaps; besides,” he added, “I can assure Your Majesty that the gold destined to pay the expenses of the fête at Vaux will cost neither blood nor tears; hard labor it may, perhaps, but that can be paid for.”

Louis paused quite confused. He wished to look at Colbert; Colbert, too, wished to reply to him; a glance as swift as an eagle’s, a king-like glance, indeed, which Fouquet darted at the latter, arrested the words upon his lips. The king, who had by this time recovered his self-possession, turned towards Fouquet, saying, “I presume, therefore, I am now to consider myself formally invited?”

“Yes, sire, if Your Majesty will condescend so far as to accept my invitation.”

“What day have you fixed?”

“Any day Your Majesty may find most convenient.”

“You speak like an enchanter who has but to conjure up in actuality the wildest fancies, Monsieur Fouquet. I could not say so much, indeed, myself.”

“Your Majesty will do, whenever you please, everything that a monarch can and ought to do. The king of France has servants at his bidding who are able to do anything on his behalf, to accomplish everything to gratify his pleasures.”

Colbert tried to look at the superintendent, in order to see whether this remark was an approach to less hostile sentiments on his part; but Fouquet had not even looked at his enemy, and Colbert hardly seemed to exist as far as he was concerned. “Very good, then,” said the king. “Will a week hence suit you?”

“Perfectly well, sire.”

“This is Tuesday; if I give you until next Sunday week, will that be sufficient?”

“The delay which Your Majesty deigns to accord me will greatly aid the various works which my architects have in hand for the purpose of adding to the amusement of Your Majesty and your friends.”

“By the by, speaking of my friends,” resumed the king; “how do you intend to treat them?”

“The king is master everywhere, sire; Your Majesty will draw up your own list and give your own orders. All those you may deign to invite will be my guests, my honored guests, indeed.”

“I thank you!” returned the king, touched by the noble thought expressed in so noble a tone.

Fouquet, therefore, took leave of Louis XIV, after a few words had been added with regard to the details of certain matters of business. He felt that Colbert would remain behind with the king, that they would both converse about him, and that neither of them would spare him in the least degree. The satisfaction of being able to give a last and terrible blow to his enemy seemed to him almost like a compensation for everything they were about to subject him to. He turned back again immediately, as soon, indeed, as he had reached the door, and addressing the king, said, “I was forgetting that I had to crave Your Majesty’s forgiveness.”

“In what respect?” said the king, graciously.

“For having committed a serious fault without perceiving it.”

“A fault! You! Ah! Monsieur Fouquet, I shall be unable to do otherwise than forgive you. In what way or against whom have you been found wanting?”

“Against every sense of propriety, sire. I forgot to inform Your Majesty of a circumstance that has lately occurred of some little importance.”

“What is it?”

Colbert trembled; he fancied that he was about to frame a denunciation against him. His conduct had been unmasked. A single syllable from Fouquet, a single proof formally advanced, and before the youthful loyalty of feeling which guided Louis XIV, Colbert’s favor would disappear at once; the latter trembled, therefore, lest so daring a blow might overthrow his whole scaffold; in point of fact, the opportunity was so admirably suited to be taken advantage of, that a skillful, practiced player like Aramis would not have let it slip. “Sire,” said Fouquet, with an easy, unconcerned air, “since you have had the kindness to forgive me, I am perfectly indifferent about my confession; this morning I sold one of the official appointments I hold.”

“One of your appointments,” said the king, “which?”

Colbert turned perfectly livid. “That which conferred upon me, sire, a grand gown, and a stern air of gravity; the appointment of procureur-général.”

The king involuntarily uttered a loud exclamation and looked at Colbert, who, with his face bedewed with perspiration, felt almost on the point of fainting. “To whom have you sold this department, Monsieur Fouquet?” inquired the king.

Colbert was obliged to lean against a column of the fireplace. “To a councilor belonging to the parliament, sire, whose name is Vanel.”

“Vanel?”

“Yes, sire, a particular friend of the intendant Colbert,” added Fouquet; letting every word fall from his lips with the most inimitable nonchalance, and with an admirably assumed expression of forgetfulness and ignorance. And having finished, and having overwhelmed Colbert beneath the weight of this superiority, the superintendent again saluted the king and quitted the room, partially revenged by the stupefaction of the king and the humiliation of the favorite.

“Is it really possible,” said the king, as soon as Fouquet had disappeared, “that he has sold that office?”

“Yes, sire,” said Colbert, meaningly.

“He must be mad,” the king added.

Colbert this time did not reply; he had penetrated the king’s thought, a thought which amply revenged him for the humiliation he had just been made to suffer; his hatred was augmented by a feeling of bitter jealousy of Fouquet; and a threat of disgrace was now added to the plan he had arranged for his ruin. Colbert felt perfectly assured that for the future, between Louis XIV and himself, their hostile feelings and ideas would meet with no obstacles, and that at the first fault committed by Fouquet, which could be laid hold of as a pretext, the chastisement so long impending would be precipitated. Fouquet had thrown aside his weapons of defense, and hate and jealousy had picked them up. Colbert was invited by the king to the fête at Vaux; he bowed like a man confident in himself, and accepted the invitation with the air of one who almost confers a favor. The king was about writing down Saint-Aignan’s name on his list of royal commands, when the usher announced the Comte de Saint-Aignan. As soon as the royal “Mercury” entered, Colbert discreetly withdrew.

CHAPTER 18

Rivals in Love
Saint-Aignan had quitted Louis XIV hardly a couple of hours before; but in the first effervescence of his affection, whenever Louis XIV was out of sight of La Vallière, he was obliged to talk about her. Besides, the only person with whom he could speak about her at his ease was Saint-Aignan, and thus Saint-Aignan had become an indispensable.

“Ah, is that you, comte?” he exclaimed, as soon as he perceived him, doubly delighted, not only to see him again, but also to get rid of Colbert, whose scowling face always put him out of humor. “So much the better, I am very glad to see you. You will make one of the traveling party, I suppose?”

“Of what traveling part are you speaking, sire?” inquired Saint-Aignan.

“The one we are making up to go to the fête the superintendent is about to give at Vaux. Ah! Saint-Aignan, you will, at last, see a fête, a royal fête, by the side of which all our amusements at Fontainebleau are petty, contemptible affairs.”

“At Vaux! the superintendent going to give a fête in Your Majesty’s honor? Nothing more than that!”

“ ‘Nothing more than that,’ do you say? It is very diverting to find you treating it with so much disdain. Are you who express such an indifference on the subject, aware, that as soon as it is known that M. Fouquet is going to receive me at Vaux next Sunday week, people will be striving their very utmost to get invited to the fête? I repeat, Saint-Aignan, you shall be one of the invited guests.”

“Very well, sire; unless I shall, in the meantime, have undertaken a longer and a less agreeable journey.”

“What journey do you allude to?”

“The one across the Styx, sire.”

“Bah!” said Louis XIV, laughing.

“No, seriously, sire,” replied Saint-Aignan, “I am invited; and in such a way, in truth, that I hardly know what to say, or how to act, in order to refuse the invitation.”

“I do not understand you. I know that you are in a poetical vein; but try not to sink from Apollo to Phoebus.”

“Very well; if Your Majesty will deign to listen to me, I will not keep your mind on the rack a moment longer.”

“Speak.”

“Your Majesty knows the Baron du Vallon?”

“Yes, indeed; a good servant to my father, the late king, and an admirable companion at table; for, I think, you are referring to the gentleman who dined with us at Fontainebleau?”

“Precisely so; but you have omitted to add to his other qualifications, sire, that he is a most charming polisher-off of other people.”

“What! Does M. du Vallon wish to polish you off?”

“Or to get me killed, which is much the same thing.”

“The deuce!”

“Do not laugh, sire, for I am not saying one word beyond the exact truth.”

“And you say he wishes to get you killed.”

“Such is that excellent person’s present idea.”

“Be easy; I will defend you, if he be in the wrong.”

“Ah! There is an ‘if’!”

“Of course; answer me as candidly as if it were someone else’s affair instead of your own, my poor Saint-Aignan; is he right or wrong?”

“Your Majesty shall be the judge.”

“What have you done to him?”

“To him, personally, nothing at all; but, it seems, to one of his friends, I have.”

“It is all the same. Is his friend one of the celebrated ‘four’?”

“No. It is the son of one of the celebrated ‘four,’ though.”

“What have you done to the son? Come, tell me.”

“Why, it seems that I have helped someone to take his mistress from him.”

“You confess it, then?”

“I cannot help confessing it, for it is true.”

“In that case, you are wrong; and if he were to kill you, he would be doing perfectly right.”

“Ah! that is Your Majesty’s way of reasoning, then!”

“Do you think it a bad way?”

“It is a very expeditious way, at all events.”

“ ‘Good justice is prompt’; so my grandfather Henry IV used to say.”

“In that case, Your Majesty will, perhaps, be good enough to sign my adversary’s pardon, for he is now waiting for me at the Minimes, for the purpose of putting me out of my misery.”

“His name, and a parchment!”

“There is a parchment upon Your Majesty’s table; and for his name⁠—”

“Well, what is it?”

“The Vicomte de Bragelonne, sire.”

“ ‘The Vicomte de Bragelonne!’ ” exclaimed the king; changing from a fit of laughter to the most profound stupor, and then, after a moment’s silence, while he wiped his forehead, which was bedewed with perspiration, he again murmured, “Bragelonne!”

“No other, sire.”

“Bragelonne, who was affianced to⁠—”

“Yes, sire.”

“But⁠—he has been in London.”

“Yes; but I can assure you, sire, he is there no longer.”

“Is he in Paris, then?”

“He is at Minimes, sire, where he is waiting for me, as I have already had the honor of telling you.”

“Does he know all?”

“Yes; and many things besides. Perhaps Your Majesty would like to look at the letter I have received from him”; and Saint-Aignan drew from his pocket the note we are already acquainted with. “When Your Majesty has read the letter, I will tell you how it reached me.”

The king read it in a great agitation, and immediately said, “Well?”

“Well, sire; Your Majesty knows a certain carved lock, closing a certain door of carved ebony, which separates a certain apartment from a certain blue and white sanctuary?”

“Of course; Louise’s boudoir.”

“Yes, sire. Well, it was in the keyhole of that lock that I found yonder note.”

“Who placed it there?”

“Either M. de Bragelonne, or the devil himself; but, inasmuch as the note smells of musk and not of sulphur, I conclude that it must be, not the devil, but M. de Bragelonne.”

Louis bent his head, and seemed absorbed in sad and bitter thought. Perhaps something like remorse was at that moment passing through his heart. “The secret is discovered,” he said.

“Sire, I shall do my utmost that the secret dies in the breast of the man who possesses it!” said Saint-Aignan, in a tone of bravado, as he moved towards the door; but a gesture of the king made him pause.

“Where are you going?” he inquired.

“Where they await me, sire.”

“What for?”

“To fight, in all probability.”

You fight!” exclaimed the king. “One moment, if you please, Monsieur le Comte!”

Saint-Aignan shook his head, as a rebellious child does, whenever anyone interferes to prevent him throwing himself into a well, or playing with a knife. “But, sire,” he said.

“In the first place,” continued the king. “I want to be enlightened a little further.”

“Upon all points, if Your Majesty will be pleased to interrogate me,” replied Saint-Aignan, “I will throw what light I can.”

“Who told you that M. de Bragelonne had penetrated into that room?”

“The letter which I found in the keyhole told me.”

“Who told you that it was de Bragelonne who put it there?”

“Who but himself would have dared to undertake such a mission?”

“You are right. How was he able to get into your rooms?”

“Ah! that is very serious, inasmuch as all the doors were closed, and my lackey, Basque, had the keys in his pocket.”

“Your lackey must have been bribed.”

“Impossible, sire; for if he had been bribed, those who did so would not have sacrificed the poor fellow, whom, it is not unlikely, they might want to turn to further use by and by, in showing so clearly that it was he whom they had made use of.”

“Quite true. And now I can only form one conjecture.”

“Tell me what it is, sire, and we shall see if it is the same that has presented itself to my mind.”

“That he effected an entrance by means of the staircase.”

“Alas, sire, that seems to me more than probable.”

“There is no doubt that someone must have sold the secret of the trapdoor.”

“Either sold it or given it.”

“Why do you make that distinction?”

“Because there are certain persons, sire, who, being above the price of treason, give, and do not sell.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, sire! Your Majesty’s mind is too clear-sighted not to guess what I mean, and you will save me the embarrassment of naming the person I allude to.”

“You are right: you mean Madame; I suppose her suspicions were aroused by your changing your lodgings.”

“Madame has keys of the apartments of her maids of honor, and she is powerful enough to discover what no one but yourself could do, or she would not be able to discover anything.”

“And you suppose, then, that my sister must have entered into an alliance with Bragelonne, and has informed him of all the details of the affair.”

“Possibly even better still, for she perhaps accompanied him there.”

“Which way? through your own apartments?”

“You think it impossible, sire? Well, listen to me. Your Majesty knows that Madame is very fond of perfumes?”

“Yes, she acquired that taste from my mother.”

“Vervain, particularly.”

“Yes, it is the scent she prefers to all others.”

“Very good, sire! my apartments happen to smell very strongly of vervain.”

The king remained silent and thoughtful for a few moments, and then resumed: “But why should Madame take Bragelonne’s part against me?”

Saint-Aignan could very easily have replied: “A woman’s jealousy!” The king probed his friend to the bottom of his heart to ascertain if he had learned the secret of his flirtation with his sister-in-law. But Saint-Aignan was not an ordinary courtier; he did not lightly run the risk of finding out family secrets; and he was too a friend of the Muses not to think very frequently of poor Ovidius Naso, whose eyes shed so many tears in expiation of his crime for having once beheld something, one hardly knows what, in the palace of Augustus. He therefore passed by Madame’s secret very skillfully. But as he had shown no ordinary sagacity in indicating Madame’s presence in his rooms in company with Bragelonne, it was necessary, of course, for him to repay with interest the king’s amour propre, and reply plainly to the question which had been put to him of: “Why has Madame taken Bragelonne’s part against me?”

“Why?” replied Saint-Aignan. “Your Majesty forgets, I presume, that the Comte de Guiche is the intimate friend of the Vicomte de Bragelonne.”

“I do not see the connection, however,” said the king.

“Ah! I beg your pardon, then, sire; but I thought the Comte de Guiche was a very great friend of Madame’s.”

“Quite true,” the king returned; “there is no occasion to search any further, the blow came from that direction.”

“And is not Your Majesty of opinion that, in order to ward it off, it will be necessary to deal another blow?”

“Yes, but not one of the kind given in the Bois de Vincennes,” replied the king.

“You forget, sire,” said Saint-Aignan, “that I am a gentleman, and that I have been challenged.”

“The challenge neither concerns nor was it intended for you.”

“But I am the man, sire, who has been expected at the Minimes, sire, during the last hour and more; and I shall be dishonored if I do not go.”

“The first honor and duty of a gentleman is obedience to his sovereign.”

“Sire!”

“I order you to remain.”

“Sire!”

“Obey, Monsieur!”

“As Your Majesty pleases.”

“Besides, I wish to have the whole of this affair explained; I wish to know how it is that I have been so insolently trifled with, as to have the sanctuary of my affections pried into. It is not you, Saint-Aignan, whose business it is to punish those who have acted in this manner, for it is not your honor they have attacked, but my own.”

“I implore Your Majesty not to overwhelm M. de Bragelonne with your wrath, for although in the whole of this affair he may have shown himself deficient in prudence, he has not been so in his feelings of loyalty.”

“Enough! I shall know how to decide between the just and the unjust, even in the height of my anger. But take care that not a word of this is breathed to Madame.”

“But what am I to do with regard to M. de Bragelonne? He will be seeking me in every direction, and⁠—”

“I shall either have spoken to him, or taken care that he has been spoken to, before the evening is over.”

“Let me once more entreat Your Majesty to be indulgent towards him.”

“I have been indulgent long enough, comte,” said Louis XIV, frowning severely; “it is now quite time to show certain persons that I am master in my own palace.”

The king had hardly pronounced these words, which betokened that a fresh feeling of irritation was mingling with the recollections of old, when an usher appeared at the door of the cabinet. “What is the matter?” inquired the king, “and why do you presume to come when I have not summoned you?”

“Sire,” said the usher, “Your Majesty desired me to permit M. le Comte de la Fère to pass freely on any and every occasion, when he might wish to speak to Your Majesty.”

“Well, Monsieur?”

“M. le Comte de la Fère is now waiting to see Your Majesty.”

The king and Saint-Aignan at this reply exchanged a look which betrayed more uneasiness than surprise. Louis hesitated for a moment, but immediately afterwards, seeming to make up his mind, he said:

“Go, Saint-Aignan, and find Louise; inform her of the plot against us; do not let her be ignorant that Madame will return to her system of persecutions against her, and that she has set those to work who would have found it far safer to remain neuter.”

“Sire⁠—”

“If Louise gets nervous and frightened, reassure her as much as you can; tell her that the king’s affection is an impenetrable shield over her; if, which I suspect is the case, she already knows everything, or if she has already been herself subjected to an attack of some kind or other from any quarter, tell her, be sure to tell her, Saint-Aignan,” added the king, trembling with passion, “tell her, I say, that this time, instead of defending her, I will avenge her, and that too so terribly that no one will in future even dare to raise his eyes towards her.”

“Is that all, sire?”

“Yes, all. Go as quickly as you can, and remain faithful; for you who live in the midst of this state of infernal torments, have not, like myself, the hope of the paradise beyond it.”

Saint-Aignan exhausted himself in protestations of devotion, took the king’s hand, kissed it, and left the room radiant with delight.

CHAPTER 19

King and Noble
The king endeavored to recover his self-possession as quickly as possible, in order to meet M. de la Fère with an untroubled countenance. He clearly saw it was not mere chance that had induced the comte’s visit, he had some vague impression of its importance; but he felt that to a man of Athos’s tone of mind, to one of such a high order of intellect, his first reception ought not to present anything either disagreeable or otherwise than kind and courteous. As soon as the king had satisfied himself that, as far as appearances went, he was perfectly calm again, he gave directions to the ushers to introduce the comte. A few minutes afterwards Athos, in full court dress, and with his breast covered with the orders that he alone had the right to wear at the court of France, presented himself with so grave and solemn an air that the king perceived, at the first glance, that he was not deceived in his anticipations. Louis advanced a step towards the comte, and, with a smile, held out his hand to him, over which Athos bowed with the air of the deepest respect.

“Monsieur le Comte de la Fère,” said the king rapidly, “you are so seldom here, that it is a real piece of good fortune to see you.”

Athos bowed and replied, “I should wish always to enjoy the happiness of being near Your Majesty.”

The tone, however, in which this reply was conveyed, evidently signified, “I should wish to be one of Your Majesty’s advisers, to save you the commission of faults.” The king felt it so, and determined in this man’s presence to preserve all the advantages which could be derived from his command over himself, as well as from his rank and position.

“I see you have something to say to me,” he said.

“Had it not been so, I should not have presumed to present myself before Your Majesty.”

“Speak quickly, I am anxious to satisfy you,” returned the king, seating himself.

“I am persuaded,” replied Athos, in a somewhat agitated tone of voice, “that Your Majesty will give me every satisfaction.”

“Ah!” said the king, with a certain haughtiness of manner, “you have come to lodge a complaint here, then?”

“It would be a complaint,” returned Athos, “only in the event of Your Majesty⁠—but if you will deign to permit me, sire, I will begin the conversation from the very commencement.”

“Do so, I am listening.”

“Your Majesty will remember that at the period of the Duke of Buckingham’s departure, I had the honor of an interview with you.”

“At or about that period, I think I remember you did; only, with regard to the subject of the conversation, I have quite forgotten it.”

Athos started, as he replied. “I shall have the honor to remind Your Majesty of it. It was with regard to a formal demand I had addressed to you respecting a marriage which M. de Bragelonne wished to contract with Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

Ah! thought the king, we have come to it now.⁠—“I remember,” he said, aloud.

“At that period,” pursued Athos, “Your Majesty was so kind and generous towards M. de Bragelonne and myself, that not a single word which then fell from your lips has escaped my memory; and, when I asked Your Majesty to accord me Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s hand for M. de Bragelonne, you refused.”

“Quite true,” said Louis, dryly.

“Alleging,” Athos hastened to say, “that the young lady had no position in society.”

Louis could hardly force himself to listen with an appearance of royal propriety.

“That,” added Athos, “she had but little fortune.”

The king threw himself back in his armchair.

“That her extraction was indifferent.”

A renewed impatience on the part of the king.

“And little beauty,” added Athos, pitilessly.

This last bolt buried itself deep in the king’s heart, and made him almost bound from his seat.

“You have a good memory, Monsieur,” he said.

“I invariably have, on occasions when I have had the distinguished honor of an interview with Your Majesty,” retorted the comte, without being in the least disconcerted.

“Very good: it is admitted that I said all that.”

“And I thanked Your Majesty for your remarks at the time, because they testified an interest in M. de Bragelonne which did him much honor.”

“And you may possibly remember,” said the king, very deliberately, “that you had the greatest repugnance for this marriage.”

“Quite true, sire.”

“And that you solicited my permission, much against your own inclination?”

“Yes, sire.”

“And finally, I remember, for I have a memory nearly as good as your own; I remember, I say, that you observed at the time: ‘I do not believe that Mademoiselle de La Vallière loves M. de Bragelonne.’ Is that true?”

The blow told well, but Athos did not draw back. “Sire,” he said, “I have already begged Your Majesty’s forgiveness; but there are certain particulars in that conversation which are only intelligible from the denouement.”

“Well, what is the denouement, Monsieur?”

“This: that Your Majesty then said, ‘that you would defer the marriage out of regard for M. de Bragelonne’s own interests.’ ”

The king remained silent. “M. de Bragelonne is now so exceedingly unhappy that he cannot any longer defer asking Your Majesty for a solution of the matter.”

The king turned pale; Athos looked at him with fixed attention.

“And what,” said the king, with considerable hesitation, “does M. de Bragelonne request?”

“Precisely the very thing that I came to ask Your Majesty for at my last audience, namely, Your Majesty’s consent to his marriage.”

The king remained perfectly silent. “The questions which referred to the different obstacles in the way are all now quite removed for us,” continued Athos. “Mademoiselle de La Vallière, without fortune, birth, or beauty, is not the less on that account the only good match in the world for M. de Bragelonne, since he loves this young girl.”

The king pressed his hands impatiently together. “Does Your Majesty hesitate?” inquired the comte, without losing a particle of either his firmness or his politeness.

“I do not hesitate⁠—I refuse,” replied the king.

Athos paused a moment, as if to collect himself: “I have had the honor,” he said, in a mild tone, “to observe to Your Majesty that no obstacle now interferes with M. de Bragelonne’s affections, and that his determination seems unalterable.”

“There is my will⁠—and that is an obstacle, I should imagine!”

“That is the most serious of all,” Athos replied quickly.

“Ah!”

“And may we, therefore, be permitted to ask Your Majesty, with the greatest humility, your reason for this refusal?”

“The reason!⁠—A question to me!” exclaimed the king.

“A demand, sire!”

The king, leaning with both his hands upon the table, said, in a deep tone of concentrated passion: “You have lost all recollection of what is usual at court. At court, please to remember, no one ventures to put a question to the king.”

“Very true, sire; but if men do not question, they conjecture.”

“Conjecture! What may that mean, Monsieur?”

“Very frequently, sire, conjecture with regard to a particular subject implies a want of frankness on the part of the king⁠—”

“Monsieur!”

“And a want of confidence on the part of the subject,” pursued Athos, intrepidly.

“You forget yourself,” said the king, hurried away by anger in spite of all his self-control.

“Sire, I am obliged to seek elsewhere for what I thought I should find in Your Majesty. Instead of obtaining a reply from you, I am compelled to make one for myself.”

The king rose. “Monsieur le Comte,” he said, “I have now given you all the time I had at my disposal.” This was a dismissal.

“Sire,” replied the comte, “I have not yet had time to tell Your Majesty what I came with the express object of saying, and I so rarely see Your Majesty that I ought to avail myself of the opportunity.”

“Just now you spoke rudely of conjectures; you are now becoming offensive, Monsieur.”

“Oh, sire! offend Your Majesty! I?⁠—never! All my life through I have maintained that kings are above all other men, not only from their rank and power, but from their nobleness of heart and their true dignity of mind. I never can bring myself to believe that my sovereign, he who passed his word to me, did so with a mental reservation.”

“What do you mean? what mental reservation do you allude to?”

“I will explain my meaning,” said Athos, coldly. “If, in refusing Mademoiselle de La Vallière to Monsieur de Bragelonne, Your Majesty had some other object in view than the happiness and fortune of the vicomte⁠—”

“You perceive, Monsieur, that you are offending me.”

“If, in requiring the vicomte to delay his marriage, Your Majesty’s only object was to remove the gentleman to whom Mademoiselle de La Vallière was engaged⁠—”

“Monsieur! Monsieur!”

“I have heard it said so in every direction, sire. Your Majesty’s affection for Mademoiselle de La Vallière is spoken of on all sides.”

The king tore his gloves, which he had been biting for some time. “Woe to those,” he cried, “who interfere in my affairs. I have made up my mind to take a particular course, and I will break through every obstacle in my way.”

“What obstacle?” said Athos.

The king stopped short, like a horse which, having taken the bit between his teeth and run away, finds it has slipped it back again, and that his career is checked. “I love Mademoiselle de La Vallière,” he said suddenly, with mingled nobleness of feeling and passion.

“But,” interrupted Athos, “that does not preclude Your Majesty from allowing M. de Bragelonne to marry Mademoiselle de La Vallière. The sacrifice is worthy of so great a monarch; it is fully merited by M. de Bragelonne, who has already rendered great service to Your Majesty, and who may well be regarded as a brave and worthy man. Your Majesty, therefore, in renouncing the affection you entertain, offers a proof at once of generosity, gratitude, and good policy.”

“Mademoiselle de La Vallière does not love M. de Bragelonne,” said the king, hoarsely.

“Does Your Majesty know that to be the case?” remarked Athos, with a searching look.

“I do know it.”

“Since a very short time, then; for doubtless, had Your Majesty known it when I first preferred my request, you would have taken the trouble to inform me of it.”

“Since a very short time, it is true, Monsieur.”

Athos remained silent for a moment, and then resumed: “In that case, I do not understand why Your Majesty should have sent M. de Bragelonne to London. That exile, and most properly so, too, is a matter of astonishment to everyone who regards Your Majesty’s honor with sincere affection.”

“Who presumes to impugn my honor, Monsieur de la Fère?”

“The king’s honor, sire, is made up of the honor of his whole nobility. Whenever the king offends one of his gentlemen, that is, whenever he deprives him of the smallest particle of his honor, it is from him, from the king himself, that that portion of honor is stolen.”

“Monsieur de la Fère!” said the king, haughtily.

“Sire, you sent M. de Bragelonne to London either before you were Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s lover, or since you have become so.”

The king, irritated beyond measure, especially because he felt that he was being mastered, endeavored to dismiss Athos by a gesture.

“Sire,” replied the comte, “I will tell you all; I will not leave your presence until I have been satisfied by Your Majesty or by myself; satisfied if you prove to me that you are right⁠—satisfied if I prove to you that you are wrong. Nay, sire, you can but listen to me. I am old now, and I am attached to everything that is really great and really powerful in your kingdom. I am of those who have shed their blood for your father and for yourself, without ever having asked a single favor either from yourself or from your father. I have never inflicted the slightest wrong or injury on anyone in this world, and even kings are still my debtors. You can but listen to me, I repeat. I have come to ask you for an account of the honor of one of your servants whom you have deceived by a falsehood, or betrayed by want of heart of judgment. I know that these words irritate Your Majesty, but the facts themselves are killing us. I know that you are endeavoring to find some means whereby to chastise me for my frankness; but I know also the chastisement I will implore God to inflict upon you when I relate to Him your perjury and my son’s unhappiness.”

The king during these remarks was walking hurriedly to and fro, his hand thrust into the breast of his coat, his head haughtily raised, his eyes blazing with wrath. “Monsieur,” he cried, suddenly, “if I acted towards you as a king, you would be already punished; but I am only a man, and I have the right to love in this world everyone who loves me⁠—a happiness which is so rarely found.”

“You cannot pretend to such a right as a man any more than as a king, sire; or if you intend to exercise that right in a loyal manner, you should have told M. de Bragelonne so, and not have exiled him.”

“It is too great a condescension, Monsieur, to discuss these things with you,” interrupted Louis XIV, with that majesty of air and manner he alone seemed able to give his look and his voice.

“I was hoping that you would reply to me,” said the comte.

“You shall know my reply, Monsieur.”

“You already know my thoughts on the subject,” was the Comte de la Fère’s answer.

“You have forgotten you are speaking to the king, Monsieur. It is a crime.”

“You have forgotten you are destroying the lives of two men, sire. It is a mortal sin.”

“Leave the room!”

“Not until I have said this: ‘Son of Louis XIII, you begin your reign badly, for you begin it by abduction and disloyalty! My race⁠—myself too⁠—are now freed from all that affection and respect towards you, which I made my son swear to observe in the vaults of Saint-Denis, in the presence of the relics of your noble forefathers. You are now become our enemy, sire, and henceforth we have nothing to do save with Heaven alone, our sole master. Be warned, be warned, sire.’ ”

“What! do you threaten?”

“Oh, no,” said Athos, sadly, “I have as little bravado as fear in my soul. The God of whom I spoke to you is now listening to me; He knows that for the safety and honor of your crown I would even yet shed every drop of blood twenty years of civil and foreign warfare have left in my veins. I can well say, then, that I threaten the king as little as I threaten the man; but I tell you, sire, you lose two servants; for you have destroyed faith in the heart of the father, and love in the heart of the son; the one ceases to believe in the royal word, the other no longer believes in the loyalty of man, or the purity of woman: the one is dead to every feeling of respect, the other to obedience. Adieu!”

Thus saying, Athos broke his sword across his knee, slowly placed the two pieces upon the floor, and saluting the king, who was almost choking from rage and shame, he quitted the cabinet. Louis, who sat near the table, completely overwhelmed, was several minutes before he could collect himself; but he suddenly rose and rang the bell violently. “Tell M. d’Artagnan to come here,” he said to the terrified ushers.

CHAPTER 20

After the Storm
Our readers will doubtlessly have been asking themselves how it happened that Athos, of whom not a word has been said for some time past, arrived so very opportunely at court. We will, without delay, endeavor to satisfy their curiosity.

Porthos, faithful to his duty as an arranger of affairs, had, immediately after leaving the Palais Royal, set off to join Raoul at the Minimes in the Bois de Vincennes, and had related everything, even to the smallest details, which had passed between Saint-Aignan and himself. He finished by saying that the message which the king had sent to his favorite would probably not occasion more than a short delay, and that Saint-Aignan, as soon as he could leave the king, would not lose a moment in accepting the invitation Raoul had sent him.

But Raoul, less credulous than his old friend, had concluded from Porthos’s recital that if Saint-Aignan was going to the king, Saint-Aignan would tell the king everything, and that the king would most assuredly forbid Saint-Aignan to obey the summons he had received to the hostile meeting. The consequence of his reflections was, that he had left Porthos to remain at the place appointed for the meeting, in the very improbable case that Saint-Aignan would come there; having endeavored to make Porthos promise that he would not remain there more than an hour or an hour and a half at the very longest. Porthos, however, formally refused to do anything of the kind, but, on the contrary, installed himself in the Minimes as if he were going to take root there, making Raoul promise that when he had been to see his father, he would return to his own apartments, in order that Porthos’s servant might know where to find him in case M. de Saint-Aignan should happen to come to the rendezvous.

Bragelonne had left Vincennes, and proceeded at once straight to the apartments of Athos, who had been in Paris during the last two days, the comte having been already informed of what had taken place, by a letter from d’Artagnan. Raoul arrived at his father’s; Athos, after having held out his hand to him, and embraced him most affectionately, made a sign for him to sit down.

“I know you come to me as a man would go to a friend, vicomte, whenever he is suffering; tell me, therefore, what is it that brings you now.”

The young man bowed, and began his recital; more than once in the course of it his tears almost choked his utterance, and a sob, checked in his throat, compelled him to suspend his narrative for a few minutes. However, he finished at last. Athos most probably already knew how matters stood, as we have just now said d’Artagnan had already written to him; but, preserving until the conclusion that calm, unruffled composure of manner which constituted the almost superhuman side of his character, he replied, “Raoul, I do not believe there is a word of truth in these rumors; I do not believe in the existence of what you fear, although I do not deny that persons best entitled to the fullest credit have already conversed with me on the subject. In my heart and soul I think it utterly impossible that the king could be guilty of such an outrage on a gentleman. I will answer for the king, therefore, and will soon bring you back the proof of what I say.”

Raoul, wavering like a drunken man between what he had seen with his own eyes and the imperturbable faith he had in a man who had never told a falsehood, bowed and simply answered, “Go, then, Monsieur le Comte; I will await your return.” And he sat down, burying his face in his hands. Athos dressed, and then left him, in order to wait upon the king; the result of that interview is already known to our readers.

When he returned to his lodgings, Raoul, pale and dejected, had not quitted his attitude of despair. At the sound, however, of the opening doors, and of his father’s footsteps as he approached him, the young man raised his head. Athos’s face was very pale, his head uncovered, and his manner full of seriousness; he gave his cloak and hat to the lackey, dismissed him with a gesture, and sat down near Raoul.

“Well, Monsieur,” inquired the young man, “are you convinced yet?”

“I am, Raoul; the king loves Mademoiselle de La Vallière.”

“He confesses it, then?” cried Raoul.

“Yes,” replied Athos.

“And she?”

“I have not seen her.”

“No; but the king spoke to you about her. What did he say?”

“He says that she loves him.”

“Oh, you see⁠—you see, Monsieur!” said the young man, with a gesture of despair.

“Raoul,” resumed the comte, “I told the king, believe me, all that you yourself could possibly have urged, and I believe I did so in becoming language, though sufficiently firm.”

“And what did you say to him, Monsieur?”

“I told him, Raoul, that everything was now at an end between him and ourselves; that you would never serve him again. I told him that I, too, should remain aloof. Nothing further remains for me, then, but to be satisfied of one thing.”

“What is that, Monsieur?”

“Whether you have determined to adopt any steps.”

“Any steps? Regarding what?”

“With reference to your disappointed affection, and⁠—your ideas of vengeance.”

“Oh, Monsieur, with regard to my affection, I shall, perhaps, some day or other, succeed in tearing it from my heart; I trust I shall do so, aided by Heaven’s merciful help, and your own wise exhortations. As far as vengeance is concerned, it occurred to me only when under the influence of an evil thought, for I could not revenge myself upon the one who is actually guilty; I have, therefore, already renounced every idea of revenge.”

“And you no longer think of seeking a quarrel with M. de Saint-Aignan?”

“No, Monsieur; I sent him a challenge: if M. de Saint-Aignan accepts it, I will maintain it; if he does not take it up, I will leave things as they are.”

“And La Vallière?”

“You cannot, I know, have seriously thought that I should dream of revenging myself upon a woman!” replied Raoul, with a smile so sad that a tear started even to the eyes of his father, who had so many times in the course of his life bowed beneath his own sorrows and those of others.

He held out his hand to Raoul, which the latter seized most eagerly.

“And so, Monsieur le Comte, you are quite satisfied that the misfortune is one beyond all remedy?” inquired the young man.

“Poor boy!” he murmured.

“You think that I still live in hope,” said Raoul, “and you pity me. Oh, it is indeed horrible suffering for me to despise, as I am bound to do, the one I have loved so devotedly. If I had but some real cause of complaint against her, I should be happy, I should be able to forgive her.”

Athos looked at his son with a profoundly sorrowful air, for the words Raoul had just pronounced seemed to have issued out of his own heart. At this moment the servant announced M. d’Artagnan. This name sounded very differently to the ears of Athos and Raoul. The musketeer entered the room with a vague smile on his lips. Raoul paused. Athos walked towards his friend with an expression of face that did not escape Bragelonne. D’Artagnan answered Athos’s look by an imperceptible movement of the eyelid; and then, advancing towards Raoul, whom he took by the hand, he said, addressing both father and son, “Well, you are trying to console this poor boy, it seems.”

“And you, kind and good as usual, have come to help me in my difficult task.”

As he said this, Athos pressed d’Artagnan’s hand between both his own. Raoul fancied he observed in this pressure something beyond the sense his mere words conveyed.

“Yes,” replied the musketeer, smoothing his mustache with the hand that Athos had left free, “yes, I have come too.”

“You are most welcome, chevalier; not for the consolation you bring with you, but on your own account. I am already consoled,” said Raoul; and he attempted to smile, but the effort was more sad than any tears d’Artagnan had ever seen shed.

“That is all well and good, then,” said d’Artagnan.

“Only,” continued Raoul, “you have arrived just as the comte was about to give me the details of his interview with the king. You will allow the comte to continue?” added the young man, as, with his eyes fixed on the musketeer, he seemed to read the very depths of his heart.

“His interview with the king?” said d’Artagnan, in a tone so natural and unassumed that there was no means of suspecting that his astonishment was feigned. “You have seen the king, then, Athos?”

Athos smiled as he said, “Yes, I have seen him.”

“Ah, indeed; you were unaware, then, that the comte had seen His Majesty?” inquired Raoul, half reassured.

“Yes, indeed, quite so.”

“In that case, I am less uneasy,” said Raoul.

“Uneasy⁠—and about what?” inquired Athos.

“Forgive me, Monsieur,” said Raoul, “but knowing so well the regard and affection you have for me, I was afraid you might possibly have expressed somewhat plainly to His Majesty my own sufferings and your indignation, and that the king had consequently⁠—”

“And that the king had consequently?” repeated d’Artagnan; “well, go on, finish what you were going to say.”

“I have now to ask you to forgive me, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” said Raoul. “For a moment, and I cannot help confessing it, I trembled lest you had come here, not as M. d’Artagnan, but as captain of the Musketeers.”

“You are mad, my poor boy,” cried d’Artagnan, with a burst of laughter, in which an exact observer might perhaps have wished to have heard a little more frankness.

“So much the better,” said Raoul.

“Yes, mad; and do you know what I would advise you to do?”

“Tell me, Monsieur, for the advice is sure to be good, as it comes from you.”

“Very good, then; I advise you, after your long journey from England, after your visit to M. de Guiche, after your visit to Madame, after your visit to Porthos, after your journey to Vincennes, I advise you, I say, to take a few hours’ rest; go and lie down, sleep for a dozen hours, and when you wake up, go and ride one of my horses until you have tired him to death.”

And drawing Raoul towards him, he embraced him as he would have done his own child. Athos did the like; only it was very visible that the kiss was still more affectionate, and the pressure of his lips even warmer with the father than with the friend. The young man again looked at both his companions, endeavoring to penetrate their real meaning or their real feelings with the utmost strength of his intelligence; but his look was powerless upon the smiling countenance of the musketeer or upon the calm and composed features of the Comte de la Fère. “Where are you going, Raoul?” inquired the latter, seeing that Bragelonne was preparing to go out.

“To my own apartments,” replied the latter, in his soft, sad voice.

“We shall be sure to find you there, then, if we should have anything to say to you?”

“Yes, Monsieur; but do you suppose it likely you will have something to say to me?”

“How can I tell?” said Athos.

“Yes, something fresh to console you with,” said d’Artagnan, pushing him towards the door.

Raoul, observing the perfect composure which marked every gesture of his two friends, quitted the comte’s room, carrying away with him nothing but the individual feeling of his own particular distress.

“Thank Heaven,” he said, “since that is the case, I need only think of myself.”

And wrapping himself up in his cloak, in order to conceal from the passersby in the streets his gloomy and sorrowful face, he quitted them, for the purpose of returning to his own rooms, as he had promised Porthos. The two friends watched the young man as he walked away with a feeling of genuine disinterested pity; only each expressed it in a different way.

“Poor Raoul!” said Athos, sighing deeply.

“Poor Raoul!” said d’Artagnan, shrugging his shoulders.

CHAPTER 21

Heu! Miser!
“Poor Raoul!” had said Athos. “Poor Raoul!” had said d’Artagnan: and, in point of fact, to be pitied by both these men, Raoul must indeed have been most unhappy. And therefore, when he found himself alone, face to face, as it were, with his own troubles, leaving behind him the intrepid friend and the indulgent father; when he recalled the avowal of the king’s affection, which had robbed him of Louise de La Vallière, whom he loved so deeply, he felt his heart almost breaking, as indeed we all have at least once in our lives, at the first illusion destroyed, the first affection betrayed. “Oh!” he murmured, “all is over, then. Nothing is now left me in this world. Nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. Guiche has told me so, my father has told me so, M. d’Artagnan has told me so. All life is but an idle dream. The future which I have been hopelessly pursuing for the last ten years is a dream! the union of hearts, a dream! a life of love and happiness, a dream! Poor fool that I am,” he continued, after a pause, “to dream away my existence aloud, publicly, and in the face of others, friends and enemies⁠—and for what purpose, too? in order that my friends may be saddened by my troubles, and my enemies may laugh at my sorrows. And so my unhappiness will soon become a notorious disgrace, a public scandal; and who knows but that tomorrow I may even be a public laughingstock?”

And, despite the composure which he had promised his father and d’Artagnan to observe, Raoul could not resist uttering a few words of darkest menace. “And yet,” he continued, “if my name were de Wardes, and if I had the pliancy of character and strength of will of M. d’Artagnan, I should laugh, with my lips at least; I should convince other women that this perfidious girl, honored by the affection I have wasted on her, leaves me only one regret, that of having been abused and deceived by her seemingly modest and irreproachable conduct; a few might perhaps fawn on the king by jesting at my expense; I should put myself on the track of some of those buffoons; I should chastise a few of them, perhaps; the men would fear me, and by the time I had laid three dying or dead at my feet, I should be adored by the women. Yes, yes, that, indeed, would be the proper course to adopt, and the Comte de la Fère himself would not object to it. Has not he also been tried, in his earlier days, in the same manner as I have just been tried myself? Did he not replace affection by intoxication? He has often told me so. Why should I not replace love by pleasure? He must have suffered as much as I suffer, even more⁠—if that is possible. The history of one man is the history of all, a dragging trial, more or less prolonged, more or less bitter⁠—sorrowful. The note of human nature is nothing but one sustained cry. But what are the sufferings of others compared to those from which I am now suffering? Does the open wound in another’s breast soften the anguish of the gaping ulcer in our own? Does the blood which is welling from another man’s side stanch that which is pouring from our own? Does the general grief of our fellow-creatures lessen our own private and particular woe? No, no, each suffers on his own account, each struggles with his own grief, each sheds his own tears. And besides,” he went on, “what has my life been up to the present moment? A cold, barren, sterile arena, in which I have always fought for others, never for myself. Sometimes for a king, sometimes for a woman. The king has betrayed, the woman disdained me. Miserable, unlucky wretch that I am! Women! Can I not make all expiate the crime of one of their sex? What does that need? To have a heart no longer, or to forget that I ever had one; to be strong, even against weakness itself; to lean always, even when one feels that the support is giving way. What is needed to attain, or succeed in all that? To be young, handsome, strong, valiant, rich. I am, or shall be, all that. But honor?” he still continued, “and what is honor after all? A theory which every man understands in his own way. My father tells me: ‘Honor is the consideration of what is due to others, and particularly what is due to oneself.’ But Guiche, and Manicamp, and Saint-Aignan particularly, would say to me: ‘What’s honor? Honor consists in studying and yielding to the passions and pleasures of one’s king.’ Honor such as that indeed, is easy and productive enough. With honor like that, I can keep my post at the court, become a gentleman of the chamber, and accept the command of a regiment, which may at any time be presented to me. With honor such as that, I can be duke and peer.

“The stain which that woman has stamped upon me, the grief that has broken my heart, the heart of the friend and playmate of her childhood, in no way affects M. de Bragelonne, an excellent officer, a courageous leader, who will cover himself with glory at the first encounter, and who will become a hundred times greater than Mademoiselle de La Vallière is today, the mistress of the king⁠—for the king will not marry her⁠—and the more publicly he will proclaim her as his mistress, the more opaque will grow the shadow of shame he casts upon her face, in the guise of a crown; and in proportion as others despise, as I despise her, I shall be gleaning honors in the field. Alas! we had walked together side by side, she and I, during the earliest, the brightest, the most angelic portion of our existence, hand in hand along the charming path of life, covered with the blossoms of youth; and then, alas! we reach a crossroad, where she separates herself from me, in which we have to follow a different route, whereby we become more and more widely separated from each other. And to attain the end of this path, oh, Heaven! I am now alone, in utter despair, and crushed to the very earth.”

Such were the sinister reflections in which Raoul indulged, when his foot mechanically paused at the door of his own dwelling. He had reached it without remarking the streets through which he passed, without knowing how he had come; he pushed open the door, continued to advance, and ascended the staircase. The staircase, as in most of the houses at that period, was very dark, and the landings most obscure. Raoul lived on the first floor; he paused in order to ring. Olivain appeared, took his sword and cloak from his hands; Raoul himself opened the door which, from the antechamber, led into a small salon, richly furnished enough for the salon of a young man, and completely filled with flowers by Olivain, who, knowing his master’s tastes, had shown himself studiously attentive in gratifying them, without caring whether his master perceived his attention or not. There was a portrait of La Vallière in the salon, which had been drawn by herself and given by her to Raoul. This portrait, fastened above a large easy chair covered with dark colored damask, was the first point towards which Raoul bent his steps⁠—the first object on which he fixed his eyes. It was, moreover, Raoul’s usual habit to do so; every time he entered his room, this portrait, before anything else, attracted his attention. This time, as usual, he walked straight up to the portrait, placed his knees upon the arm chair, and paused to look at it sadly. His arms were crossed upon his breast, his head slightly thrown back, his eyes filled with tears, his mouth worked into a bitter smile. He looked at the portrait of the one he had so tenderly loved; and then all that he had said passed before his mind again, all that he had suffered seemed again to assail his heart; and, after a long silence, he murmured for the third time, “Miserable, unlucky wretch that I am!”

He had hardly pronounced these words, when he heard the sound of a sigh and a groan behind him. He turned sharply round and perceived, in the angle of the salon, standing up, a bending veiled female figure, which he had been the means of concealing behind the door as he opened it, and which he had not perceived as he entered. He advanced towards the figure, whose presence in his room had not been announced to him; and as he bowed, and inquired at the same moment who she was, she suddenly raised her head, and removed the veil from her face, revealing her pale and sorrow-stricken features. Raoul staggered back as if he had seen a ghost.

“Louise!” he cried, in a tone of such absolute despair, one could hardly have thought the human voice was capable of so desponding a cry, without the snapping of the human heart.

CHAPTER 22

Wounds Within Wounds
Mademoiselle de La Vallière⁠—for it was indeed she⁠—advanced a few steps towards him. “Yes⁠—Louise,” she murmured.

But this interval, short as it had been, was quite sufficient for Raoul to recover himself. “You, Mademoiselle?” he said; and then added, in an indefinable tone, “You here!”

“Yes, Raoul,” the young girl replied, “I have been waiting for you.”

“I beg your pardon. When I came into the room I was not aware⁠—”

“I know⁠—but I entreated Olivain not to tell you⁠—” She hesitated; and as Raoul did not attempt to interrupt her, a moment’s silence ensued, during which the sound of their throbbing hearts might have been heard, not in unison with each other, but the one beating as violently as the other. It was for Louise to speak, and she made an effort to do so.

“I wished to speak to you,” she said. “It was absolutely necessary that I should see you⁠—myself⁠—alone. I have not hesitated to adopt a step which must remain secret; for no one, except yourself, could understand my motive, Monsieur de Bragelonne.”

“In fact, Mademoiselle,” Raoul stammered out, almost breathless from emotion, “as far as I am concerned, and despite the good opinion you have of me, I confess⁠—”

“Will you do me the great kindness to sit down and listen to me?” said Louise, interrupting him with her soft, sweet voice.

Bragelonne looked at her for a moment; then mournfully shaking his head, he sat, or rather fell down on a chair. “Speak,” he said.

She cast a glance all round her. This look was a timid entreaty, and implored secrecy far more effectually than her expressed words had done a few minutes before. Raoul rose, and went to the door, which he opened. “Olivain,” he said, “I am not within for anyone.” And then, turning towards Louise, he added, “Is not that what you wished?”

Nothing could have produced a greater effect upon Louise than these few words, which seemed to signify, “You see that I still understand you.” She passed a handkerchief across her eyes, in order to remove a rebellious tear which she could not restrain; and then, having collected herself for a moment, she said, “Raoul, do not turn your kind, frank look away from me. You are not one of those men who despise a woman for having given her heart to another, even though her affection might render him unhappy, or might wound his pride.” Raoul did not reply.

“Alas!” continued La Vallière, “it is only too true, my cause is a bad one, and I cannot tell in what way to begin. It will be better for me, I think, to relate to you, very simply, everything that has befallen me. As I shall speak but the pure and simple truth, I shall always find my path clear before me in spite of the obscurity and obstacles I have to brave in order to solace my heart, which is full to overflowing, and wishes to pour itself out at your feet.”

Raoul continued to preserve the same unbroken silence. La Vallière looked at him with an air that seemed to say, “Encourage me; for pity’s sake, but a single word!” But Raoul did not open his lips; and the young girl was obliged to continue:⁠—

“Just now,” she said, “M. de Saint-Aignan came to me by the king’s directions.” She cast down her eyes as she said this; while Raoul, on his side, turned his away, in order to avoid looking at her. “M. de Saint-Aignan came to me from the king,” she repeated, “and told me that you knew all”; and she attempted to look Raoul in the face, after inflicting this further wound upon him, in addition to the many others he had already received; but it was impossible to meet Raoul’s eyes.

“He told me you were incensed with me⁠—and justly so, I admit.”

This time Raoul looked at the young girl, and a smile full of disdain passed across his lips.

“Oh!” she continued, “I entreat you, do not say that you have had any other feeling against me than that of anger merely. Raoul, wait until I have told you all⁠—wait until I have said to you all that I had to say⁠—all that I came to say.”

Raoul, by the strength of his iron will, forced his features to assume a calmer expression, and the disdainful smile upon his lip passed away.

“In the first place,” said La Vallière, “in the first place, with my hands raised in entreaty towards you, with my forehead bowed to the ground before you, I entreat you, as the most generous, as the noblest of men, to pardon, to forgive me. If I have left you in ignorance of what was passing in my own bosom, never, at least, would I have consented to deceive you. Oh! I entreat you, Raoul⁠—I implore you on my knees⁠—answer me one word, even though you wrong me in doing so. Better, far better, an injurious word from your lips, than suspicion resting in your heart.”

“I admire your subtlety of expression, Mademoiselle,” said Raoul, making an effort to remain calm. “To leave another in ignorance that you are deceiving him, is loyal; but to deceive him⁠—it seems that would be very wrong, and that you would not do it.”

“Monsieur, for a long time I thought that I loved you better than anything else; and so long as I believed in my affection for you, I told you that loved you. I could have sworn it on the altar; but a day came when I was undeceived.”

“Well, on that day, Mademoiselle, knowing that I still continued to love you, true loyalty of conduct should have forced you to inform me you had ceased to love me.”

“But on that day, Raoul⁠—on that day, when I read in the depths of my own heart, when I confessed to myself that you no longer filled my mind entirely, when I saw another future before me than that of being your friend, your lifelong companion, your wife⁠—on that day, Raoul, you were not, alas! any more beside me.”

“But you knew where I was, Mademoiselle; you could have written to me.”

“Raoul, I did not dare to do so. Raoul, I have been weak and cowardly. I knew you so thoroughly⁠—I knew how devotedly you loved me, that I trembled at the bare idea of the grief I was about to cause you; and that is so true, Raoul, that this very moment I am now speaking to you, bending thus before you, my heart crushed in my bosom, my voice full of sighs, my eyes full of tears, it is so perfectly true, that I have no other defense than my frankness, I have no other sorrow greater than that which I read in your eyes.”

Raoul attempted to smile.

“No!” said the young girl, with a profound conviction, “no, no; you will not do me so foul a wrong as to disguise your feelings before me now! You loved me; you were sure of your affection for me; you did not deceive yourself; you do not lie to your own heart⁠—whilst I⁠—I⁠—” And pale as death, her arms thrown despairingly above her head, she fell upon her knees.

“Whilst you,” said Raoul, “you told me you loved me, and yet you loved another.”

“Alas, yes!” cried the poor girl; “alas, yes! I do love another; and that other⁠—oh! for Heaven’s sake let me say it, Raoul, for it is my only excuse⁠—that other I love better than my own life, better than my own soul even. Forgive my fault, or punish my treason, Raoul. I came here in no way to defend myself, but merely to say to you: ‘You know what it is to love!’⁠—in such a case am I! I love to that degree, that I would give my life, my very soul, to the man I love. If he should ever cease to love me, I shall die of grief and despair, unless Heaven come to my assistance, unless Heaven does show pity upon me. Raoul, I came here to submit myself to your will, whatever it might be⁠—to die, if it were your wish I should die. Kill me, then, Raoul! if in your heart you believe I deserve death.”

“Take care, Mademoiselle,” said Raoul: “the woman who invites death is one who has nothing but her heart’s blood to offer to her deceived and betrayed lover.”

“You are right,” she said.

Raoul uttered a deep sigh, as he exclaimed, “And you love without being able to forget?”

“I love without a wish to forget; without a wish ever to love anyone else,” replied La Vallière.

“Very well,” said Raoul. “You have said to me, in fact, all you had to say; all I could possibly wish to know. And now, Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness, for it is I who have almost been an obstacle in your life; I, too, who have been wrong, for, in deceiving myself, I helped to deceive you.”

“Oh!” said La Vallière, “I do not ask you so much as that, Raoul.”

“I only am to blame, Mademoiselle,” continued Raoul, “better informed than yourself of the difficulties of this life, I should have enlightened you. I ought not to have relied upon uncertainty; I ought to have extracted an answer from your heart, whilst I hardly even sought an acknowledgement from your lips. Once more, Mademoiselle, it is I who ask your forgiveness.”

“Impossible, impossible!” she cried, “you are mocking me.”

“How, impossible?”

“Yes, it is impossible to be so good, and kind, ah! perfect to such a degree as that.”

“Take care!” said Raoul, with a bitter smile, “for presently you may say perhaps I did not love you.”

“Oh! you love me like an affectionate brother; let me hope that, Raoul.”

“As a brother! undeceive yourself, Louise. I love you as a lover⁠—as a husband, with the deepest, the truest, the fondest affection.”

“Raoul, Raoul!”

“As a brother! Oh, Louise! I love you so deeply, that I would have shed my blood for you, drop by drop; I would, oh! how willingly, have suffered myself to be torn to pieces for your sake, have sacrificed my very future for you. I love you so deeply, Louise, that my heart feels dead and crushed within me⁠—my faith in human nature all is gone⁠—my eyes have lost their light; I loved you so deeply, that I now no longer see, think of, care for, anything, either in this world or the next.”

“Raoul⁠—dear Raoul! spare me, I implore you!” cried La Vallière. “Oh! if I had but known⁠—”

“It is too late, Louise; you love, you are happy in your affection; I read your happiness through your tears⁠—behind the tears which the loyalty of your nature makes you shed; I feel the sighs your affection breathes forth. Louise, Louise, you have made me the most abjectly wretched man living; leave me, I entreat you. Adieu! adieu!”

“Forgive me! oh, forgive me, Raoul, for what I have done.”

“Have I not done much, much more? Have I not told you that I love you still?” She buried her face in her hands.

“And to tell you that⁠—do you hear me, Louise?⁠—to tell you that, at such a moment as this, to tell you that, as I have told you, is to pronounce my own sentence of death. Adieu!” La Vallière held out her hands to him in vain.

“We ought not to see each other again in this world,” he said, and as she was on the point of crying out in bitter agony at this remark, he placed his hand on her mouth to stifle the exclamation. She pressed her lips upon it, and fell fainting to the ground. “Olivain,” said Raoul, “take this young lady and bear her to the carriage which is waiting for her at the door.” As Olivain lifted her up, Raoul made a movement as if to dart towards La Vallière, in order to give her a first and last kiss, but, stopping abruptly, he said, “No! she is not mine. I am no thief⁠—as is the king of France.” And he returned to his room, whilst the lackey carried La Vallière, still fainting, to the carriage.

CHAPTER 23

What Raoul Had Guessed
As soon as Raoul had quitted Athos and d’Artagnan, as the two exclamations that had followed his departure escaped their lips, they found themselves face to face alone. Athos immediately resumed the earnest air that he had assumed at d’Artagnan’s arrival.

“Well,” he said, “what have you come to announce to me, my friend?”

“I?” inquired d’Artagnan.

“Yes; I do not see you in this way without some reason for it,” said Athos, smiling.

“The deuce!” said d’Artagnan.

“I will place you at your ease. The king is furious, I suppose?”

“Well, I must say he is not altogether pleased.”

“And you have come to arrest me, then?”

“My dear friend, you have hit the very mark.”

“Oh, I expected it. I am quite ready to go with you.”

“Deuce take it!” said d’Artagnan, “what a hurry you are in.”

“I am afraid of delaying you,” said Athos, smiling.

“I have plenty of time. Are you not curious, besides, to know how things went on between the king and me?”

“If you will be good enough to tell me, I will listen with the greatest of pleasure,” said Athos, pointing out to d’Artagnan a large chair, into which the latter threw himself, assuming the easiest possible attitude.

“Well, I will do so willingly enough,” continued d’Artagnan, “for the conversation is rather curious, I must say. In the first place the king sent for me.”

“As soon as I had left?”

“You were just going down the last steps of the staircase, as the musketeers told me. I arrived. My dear Athos, he was not red in the face merely, he was positively purple. I was not aware, of course, of what had passed; only, on the ground, lying on the floor, I saw a sword broken in two.”

“ ‘Captain d’Artagnan,’ cried the king, as soon as he saw me.

“ ‘Sire,’ I replied.

“ ‘M. de la Fère has just left me; he is an insolent man.’

“ ‘An insolent man!’ I exclaimed, in such a tone that the king stopped suddenly short.

“ ‘Captain d’Artagnan,’ resumed the king, with his teeth clenched, ‘you will be good enough to listen to and hear me.’

“ ‘That is my duty, sire.’

“ ‘I have, out of consideration for M. de la Fère, wished to spare him⁠—he is a man of whom I still retain some kind recollections⁠—the discredit of being arrested in my palace. You will therefore take a carriage.’ At this I made a slight movement.

“ ‘If you object to arrest him yourself,’ continued the king, ‘send me my captain of the Guards.’

“ ‘Sire,’ I replied, ‘there is no necessity for the captain of the Guards, since I am on duty.’

“ ‘I should not like to annoy you,’ said the king, kindly, ‘for you have always served me well, Monsieur d’Artagnan.’

“ ‘You do not “annoy” me, sire,’ I replied; ‘I am on duty, that is all.’

“ ‘But,’ said the king, in astonishment, ‘I believe the comte is your friend?’

“ ‘If he were my father, sire, it would not make me less on duty than I am.’

“The king looked at me; he saw how unmoved my face was, and seemed satisfied. ‘You will arrest M. le Comte de la Fère, then?’ he inquired.

“ ‘Most certainly, sire, if you give me the order to do so.’

“ ‘Very well; I order you to do so.’

“I bowed, and replied, ‘Where is the comte, sire?’

“ ‘You will look for him.’

“ ‘And am I to arrest him, wherever he may be?’

“ ‘Yes; but try that he may be at his own house. If he should have started for his own estate, leave Paris at once, and arrest him on his way thither.’

“I bowed; but as I did not move, he said, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’

“ ‘For the order to arrest the comte, signed by yourself.’

“The king seemed annoyed; for, in point of fact, it was the exercise of a fresh act of authority, a repetition of the arbitrary act, if, indeed, it is to be considered as such. He took hold of his pen slowly, and evidently in no very good temper; and then he wrote, ‘Order for M. le Chevalier d’Artagnan, captain of my Musketeers, to arrest M. le Comte de la Fère, wherever he is to be found.’ He then turned towards me; but I was looking on without moving a muscle of my face. In all probability he thought he perceived something like bravado in my tranquil manner, for he signed hurriedly, and then handing me the order, he said, ‘Go, Monsieur!’ I obeyed; and here I am.”

Athos pressed his friend’s hand. “Well, let us set off,” he said.

“Oh! surely,” said d’Artagnan, “you must have some trifling matters to arrange before you leave your apartments in this manner.”

“I?⁠—not at all.”

“Why not?”

“Why, you know, d’Artagnan, that I have always been a very simple traveler on this earth, ready to go to the end of the world by the order of my sovereign; ready to quit it at the summons of my Maker. What does a man who is thus prepared require in such a case?⁠—a portmanteau, or a shroud. I am ready at this moment, as I have always been, my dear friend, and can accompany you at once.”

“But, Bragelonne⁠—”

“I have brought him up in the same principles I laid down for my own guidance; and you observed that, as soon as he perceived you, he guessed, that very moment, the motive of your visit. We have thrown him off his guard for a moment; but do not be uneasy, he is sufficiently prepared for my disgrace not to be too much alarmed at it. So, let us go.”

“Very well, let us go,” said d’Artagnan, quietly.

“As I broke my sword in the king’s presence, and threw the pieces at his feet, I presume that will dispense with the necessity of delivering it over to you.”

“You are quite right; and besides that, what the deuce do you suppose I could do with your sword?”

“Am I to walk behind, or before you?” inquired Athos, laughing.

“You will walk arm in arm with me,” replied d’Artagnan, as he took the comte’s arm to descend the staircase; and in this manner they arrived at the landing. Grimaud, whom they had met in the anteroom, looked at them as they went out together in this manner, with some little uneasiness; his experience of affairs was quite sufficient to give him good reason to suspect that there was something wrong.

“Ah! is that you, Grimaud?” said Athos, kindly. “We are going⁠—”

“To take a turn in my carriage,” interrupted d’Artagnan, with a friendly nod of the head.

Grimaud thanked d’Artagnan by a grimace, which was evidently intended for a smile, and accompanied both the friends to the door. Athos entered first into the carriage; d’Artagnan followed him without saying a word to the coachman. The departure had taken place so quietly, that it excited no disturbance or attention even in the neighborhood. When the carriage had reached the quays, “You are taking me to the Bastille, I perceive,” said Athos.

“I?” said d’Artagnan, “I take you wherever you may choose to go; nowhere else, I can assure you.”

“What do you mean?” said the comte, surprised.

“Why, surely, my dear friend,” said d’Artagnan, “you quite understand that I undertook the mission with no other object in view than that of carrying it out exactly as you liked. You surely did not expect that I was going to get you thrown into prison like that, brutally, and without any reflection. If I had anticipated that, I should have let the captain of the Guards undertake it.”

“And so⁠—?” said Athos.

“And so, I repeat again, we will go wherever you may choose.”

“My dear friend,” said Athos, embracing d’Artagnan, “how like you that is!”

“Well, it seems simple enough to me. The coachman will take you to the barrier of the Cours-la-Reine; you will find a horse there which I have ordered to be kept ready for you; with that horse you will be able to do three posts without stopping; and I, on my side, will take care not to return to the king, to tell him that you have gone away, until the very moment it will be impossible to overtake you. In the meantime you will have reached Le Havre, and from Le Havre across to England, where you will find the charming residence of which M. Monck made me a present, without speaking of the hospitality which King Charles will not fail to show you. Well, what do you think of this project?”

Athos shook his head, and then said, smiling as he did so, “No, no, take me to the Bastille.”

“You are an obstinate fellow, my dear Athos,” returned d’Artagnan, “reflect for a few moments.”

“On what subject?”

“That you are no longer twenty years of age. Believe me, I speak according to my own knowledge and experience. A prison is certain death for men who are at our time of life. No, no; I will never allow you to languish in prison in such a way. Why, the very thought of it makes my head turn giddy.”

“Dear d’Artagnan,” Athos replied, “Heaven most fortunately made my body as strong, powerful, and enduring as my mind; and, rely upon it, I shall retain my strength up to the very last moment.”

“But this is not strength of mind or character; it is sheer madness.”

“No, d’Artagnan, it is the highest order of reasoning. Do not suppose that I should in the slightest degree in the world discuss the question with you, whether you would not be ruined in endeavoring to save me. I should have done precisely as you propose if flight had been part of my plan of action; I should, therefore, have accepted from you what, without any doubt, you would have accepted from me. No! I know you too well even to breathe a word upon the subject.”

“Ah! if you would only let me do it,” said d’Artagnan, “what a dance we would give his most gracious majesty!”

“Still he is the king; do not forget that, my dear friend.”

“Oh! that is all the same to me; and king though he be, I would plainly tell him, ‘Sire, imprison, exile, kill everyone in France and Europe; order me to arrest and poniard even whom you like⁠—even were it Monsieur, your own brother; but do not touch one of the four musketeers, or if so, mordioux!’ ”

“My dear friend,” replied Athos, with perfect calmness, “I should like to persuade you of one thing; namely, that I wish to be arrested; that I desire above all things that my arrest should take place.”

D’Artagnan made a slight movement of his shoulders.

“Nay, I wish it, I repeat, more than anything; if you were to let me escape, it would be only to return of my own accord, and constitute myself a prisoner. I wish to prove to this young man, who is dazzled by the power and splendor of his crown, that he can be regarded as the first and chiefest among men only on the one condition of his proving himself to be the most generous and the wisest. He may punish me, imprison, torture me, it matters not. He abuses his opportunities, and I wish him to learn the bitterness of remorse, while Heaven teaches him what chastisement is.”

“Well, well,” replied d’Artagnan, “I know only too well that, when you have once said, ‘no,’ you mean ‘no.’ I do not insist any longer; you wish to go to the Bastille?”

“I do wish to go there.”

“Let us go, then! To the Bastille!” cried d’Artagnan to the coachman. And throwing himself back in the carriage, he gnawed the ends of his mustache with a fury which, for Athos, who knew him well, signified a resolution either already taken or in course of formation. A profound silence ensued in the carriage, which continued to roll on, but neither faster nor slower than before. Athos took the musketeer by the hand.

“You are not angry with me, d’Artagnan?” he said.

“I!⁠—oh, no! certainly not; of course not. What you do for heroism, I should have done from obstinacy.”

“But you are quite of opinion, are you not, that Heaven will avenge me, d’Artagnan?”

“And I know one or two on earth who will not fail to lend a helping hand,” said the captain.

CHAPTER 24

Three Guests Astonished to Find Themselves at Supper Together
The carriage arrived at the outside of the gate of the Bastille. A soldier on guard stopped it, but d’Artagnan had only to utter a single word to procure admittance, and the carriage passed on without further difficulty. Whilst they were proceeding along the covered way which led to the courtyard of the governor’s residence, d’Artagnan, whose lynx eyes saw everything, even through the walls, suddenly cried out, “What is that out yonder?”

“Well,” said Athos, quietly; “what is it?”

“Look yonder, Athos.”

“In the courtyard?”

“Yes, yes; make haste!”

“Well, a carriage; very likely conveying a prisoner like myself.”

“That would be too droll.”

“I do not understand you.”

“Make haste and look again, and look at the man who is just getting out of that carriage.”

At that very moment a second sentinel stopped d’Artagnan, and while the formalities were being gone through, Athos could see at a hundred paces from him the man whom his friend had pointed out to him. He was, in fact, getting out of the carriage at the door of the governor’s house. “Well,” inquired d’Artagnan, “do you see him?”

“Yes; he is a man in a gray suit.”

“What do you say of him?”

“I cannot very well tell; he is, as I have just now told you, a man in a gray suit, who is getting out of a carriage; that is all.”

“Athos, I will wager anything that it is he.”

“He, who?”

“Aramis.”

“Aramis arrested? Impossible!”

“I do not say he is arrested, since we see him alone in his carriage.”

“Well, then, what is he doing here?”

“Oh! he knows Baisemeaux, the governor,” replied the musketeer, slyly; “so we have arrived just in time.”

“What for?”

“In order to see what we can see.”

“I regret this meeting exceedingly. When Aramis sees me, he will be very much annoyed, in the first place, at seeing me, and in the next at being seen.”

“Very well reasoned.”

“Unfortunately, there is no remedy for it; whenever anyone meets another in the Bastille, even if he wished to draw back to avoid him, it would be impossible.”

“Athos, I have an idea; the question is, to spare Aramis the annoyance you were speaking of, is it not?”

“What is to be done?”

“I will tell you; or in order to explain myself in the best possible way, let me relate the affair in my own manner; I will not recommend you to tell a falsehood, for that would be impossible for you to do; but I will tell falsehoods enough for both; it is easy to do that when one is born to the nature and habits of a Gascon.”

Athos smiled. The carriage stopped where the one we have just now pointed out had stopped; namely, at the door of the governor’s house. “It is understood, then?” said d’Artagnan, in a low voice to his friend. Athos consented by a gesture. They ascended the staircase. There will be no occasion for surprise at the facility with which they had entered into the Bastille, if it be remembered that, before passing the first gate, in fact, the most difficult of all, d’Artagnan had announced that he had brought a prisoner of state. At the third gate, on the contrary, that is to say, when he had once fairly entered the prison, he merely said to the sentinel, “To M. Baisemeaux”; and they both passed on. In a few minutes they were in the governor’s dining-room, and the first face which attracted d’Artagnan’s observation was that of Aramis, who was seated side by side with Baisemeaux, awaiting the announcement of a meal whose odor impregnated the whole apartment. If d’Artagnan pretended surprise, Aramis did not pretend at all; he started when he saw his two friends, and his emotion was very apparent. Athos and d’Artagnan, however, complimented him as usual, and Baisemeaux, amazed, completely stupefied by the presence of his three guests, began to perform a few evolutions around them.

“By what lucky accident⁠—”

“We were just going to ask you,” retorted d’Artagnan.

“Are we going to give ourselves up as prisoners?” cried Aramis, with an affection of hilarity.

“Ah! ah!” said d’Artagnan; “it is true the walls smell deucedly like a prison. Monsieur de Baisemeaux, you know you invited me to sup with you the other day.”

“I?” cried Baisemeaux.

“Yes, of course you did, although you now seem so struck with amazement. Don’t you remember it?”

Baisemeaux turned pale and then red, looked at Aramis, who looked at him, and finished by stammering out, “Certainly⁠—I am delighted⁠—but, upon my honor⁠—I have not the slightest⁠—Ah! I have such a wretched memory.”

“Well! I am wrong, I see,” said d’Artagnan, as if he were offended.

“Wrong, what for?”

“Wrong to remember anything about it, it seems.”

Baisemeaux hurried towards him. “Do not stand on ceremony, my dear captain,” he said; “I have the worst memory in the world. I no sooner leave off thinking of my pigeons and their pigeon-house, than I am no better than the rawest recruit.”

“At all events, you remember it now,” said d’Artagnan, boldly.

“Yes, yes,” replied the governor, hesitating; “I think I do remember.”

“It was when you came to the palace to see me; you told me some story or other about your accounts with M. de Louvière and M. de Tremblay.”

“Oh, yes! perfectly.”

“And about M. d’Herblay’s kindness towards you.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Aramis, looking at the unhappy governor full in the face, “and yet you just now said you had no memory, Monsieur de Baisemeaux.”

Baisemeaux interrupted the musketeer in the middle of his revelations. “Yes, yes; you’re quite right; how could I have forgotten; I remember it now as well as possible; I beg you a thousand pardons. But now, once for all, my dear M. d’Artagnan, be sure that at this present time, as at any other, whether invited or not, you are perfectly at home here, you and M. d’Herblay, your friend,” he said, turning towards Aramis; “and this gentleman, too,” he added, bowing to Athos.

“Well, I thought it would be sure to turn out so,” replied d’Artagnan, “and that is the reason I came. Having nothing to do this evening at the Palais Royal, I wished to judge for myself what your ordinary style of living was like; and as I was coming along, I met the Comte de la Fère.”

Athos bowed. “The comte, who had just left His Majesty, handed me an order which required immediate attention. We were close by here; I wished to call in, even if it were for no other object than that of shaking hands with you and of presenting the comte to you, of whom you spoke so highly that evening at the palace when⁠—”

“Certainly, certainly⁠—M. le Comte de la Fère?”

“Precisely.”

“The comte is welcome, I am sure.”

“And he will sup with you two, I suppose, whilst I, unfortunate dog that I am, must run off on a matter of duty. Oh! what happy beings you are, compared to myself,” he added, sighing as loud as Porthos might have done.

“And so you are going away, then?” said Aramis and Baisemeaux together, with the same expression of delighted surprise, the tone of which was immediately noticed by d’Artagnan.

“I leave you in my place,” he said, “a noble and excellent guest.” And he touched Athos gently on the shoulder, who, astonished also, could not help exhibiting his surprise a little; which was noticed by Aramis only, for M. de Baisemeaux was not quite equal to the three friends in point of intelligence.

“What, are you going to leave us?” resumed the governor.

“I shall only be about an hour, or an hour and a half. I will return in time for dessert.”

“Oh! we will wait for you,” said Baisemeaux.

“No, no; that would be really disobliging me.”

“You will be sure to return, though?” said Athos, with an expression of doubt.

“Most certainly,” he said, pressing his friend’s hand confidently; and he added, in a low voice, “Wait for me, Athos; be cheerful and lively as possible, and above all, don’t allude even to business affairs, for Heaven’s sake.”

And with a renewed pressure of the hand, he seemed to warn the comte of the necessity of keeping perfectly discreet and impenetrable. Baisemeaux led d’Artagnan to the gate. Aramis, with many friendly protestations of delight, sat down by Athos, determined to make him speak; but Athos possessed every virtue and quality to the very highest degree. If necessity had required it, he would have been the finest orator in the world, but on other occasions he would rather have died than have opened his lips.

Ten minutes after d’Artagnan’s departure, the three gentlemen sat down to table, which was covered with the most substantial display of gastronomic luxury. Large joints, exquisite dishes, preserves, the greatest variety of wines, appeared successively upon the table, which was served at the king’s expense, and of which expense M. Colbert would have found no difficulty in saving two thirds, without anyone in the Bastille being the worse for it. Baisemeaux was the only one who ate and drank with gastronomic resolution. Aramis allowed nothing to pass by him, but merely touched everything he took; Athos, after the soup and three hors d’oeuvres, ate nothing more. The style of conversation was such as might have been anticipated between three men so opposite in temper and ideas. Aramis was incessantly asking himself by what extraordinary chance Athos was there at Baisemeaux’s when d’Artagnan was no longer there, and why d’Artagnan did not remain when Athos was there. Athos sounded all the depths of the mind of Aramis, who lived in the midst of subterfuge, evasion, and intrigue; he studied his man well and thoroughly, and felt convinced that he was engaged upon some important project. And then he too began to think of his own personal affair, and to lose himself in conjectures as to d’Artagnan’s reason for having left the Bastille so abruptly, and for leaving behind him a prisoner so badly introduced and so badly looked after by the prison authorities. But we shall not pause to examine into the thoughts and feelings of these personages, but will leave them to themselves, surrounded by the remains of poultry, game, and fish, which Baisemeaux’s generous knife and fork had so mutilated. We are going to follow d’Artagnan instead, who, getting into the carriage which had brought him, said to the coachman, “Return to the palace, as fast as the horses can gallop.”

CHAPTER 25

What Took Place at the Louvre During the Supper at the Bastille
M. de Saint-Aignan had executed the commission with which the king had entrusted him for La Vallière⁠—as we have already seen in one of the preceding chapters; but, whatever his eloquence, he did not succeed in persuading the young girl that she had in the king a protector powerful enough for her under any combination of circumstances, and that she had no need of anyone else in the world when the king was on her side. In point of fact, at the very first word which the favorite mentioned of the discovery of the famous secret, Louise, in a passion of tears, abandoned herself in utter despair to a sorrow which would have been far from flattering for the king, if he had been a witness of it from one of the corners of the room. Saint-Aignan, in his character of ambassador, felt almost as greatly offended at it as his master himself would have been, and returned to inform the king what he had seen and heard; and it is thus we find him, in a state of great agitation, in the presence of the king, who was, if possible, in a state of even greater flurry than himself.

“But,” said the king to the courtier, when the latter had finished his report, “what did she decide to do? Shall I at least see her presently before supper? Will she come to me, or shall I be obliged to go to her room?”

“I believe, sire, that if Your Majesty wishes to see her, you will not only have to take the first step in advance, but will have to go the whole way.”

“That I do not mind. Do you think she has yet a secret fancy for young Bragelonne?” muttered the king between his teeth.

“Oh! sire, that is not possible; for it is you alone, I am convinced, Mademoiselle de La Vallière loves, and that, too, with all her heart. But you know that de Bragelonne belongs to that proud race who play the part of Roman heroes.”

The king smiled feebly; he knew how true the illustration was, for Athos had just left him.

“As for Mademoiselle de La Vallière,” Saint-Aignan continued, “she was brought up under the care of the Dowager Madame, that is to say, in the greatest austerity and formality. This young engaged couple coldly exchanged their little vows in the prim presence of the moon and stars; and now, when they find they have to break those vows asunder, it plays the very deuce with them.”

Saint-Aignan thought to have made the king laugh; but on the contrary, from a mere smile Louis passed to the greatest seriousness of manner. He already began to experience that remorse which the comte had promised d’Artagnan he would inflict upon him. He reflected that, in fact, these young persons had loved and sworn fidelity to each other; that one of the two had kept his word, and that the other was too conscientious not to feel her perjury most bitterly. And his remorse was not unaccompanied; for bitter pangs of jealousy began to beset the king’s heart. He did not say another word, and instead of going to pay a visit to his mother, or the queen, or Madame, in order to amuse himself a little, and make the ladies laugh, as he himself used to say, he threw himself into the huge armchair in which his august father Louis XIII had passed so many weary days and years in company with Barradat and Cinq-Mars. Saint-Aignan perceived the king was not to be amused at that moment; he tried a last resource, and pronounced Louise’s name, which made the king look up immediately. “What does Your Majesty intend to do this evening⁠—shall Mademoiselle de La Vallière be informed of your intention to see her?”

“It seems she is already aware of that,” replied the king. “No, no, Saint-Aignan,” he continued, after a moment’s pause, “we will both of us pass our time in thinking, and musing, and dreaming; when Mademoiselle de La Vallière shall have sufficiently regretted what she now regrets, she will deign, perhaps, to give us some news of herself.”

“Ah! sire, is it possible you can so misunderstand her heart, which is so full of devotion?”

The king rose, flushed from vexation and annoyance; he was a prey to jealousy as well as to remorse. Saint-Aignan was just beginning to feel that his position was becoming awkward, when the curtain before the door was raised. The king turned hastily round; his first idea was that a letter from Louise had arrived; but, instead of a letter of love, he only saw his captain of Musketeers, standing upright and perfectly silent in the doorway. “M. d’Artagnan,” he said, “ah! Well, Monsieur?”

D’Artagnan looked at Saint-Aignan; the king’s eyes took the same direction as those of his captain; these looks would have been clear to anyone, and for a still greater reason they were so for Saint-Aignan. The courtier bowed and quitted the room, leaving the king and d’Artagnan alone.

“Is it done?” inquired the king.

“Yes, sire,” replied the captain of the Musketeers, in a grave voice, “it is done.”

The king was unable to say another word. Pride, however, obliged him not to pause at what he had done; whenever a sovereign has adopted a decisive course, even though it be unjust, he is compelled to prove to all witnesses, and particularly to prove it to himself, that he was quite right all through. A good means for effecting that⁠—an almost infallible means, indeed⁠—is, to try and prove his victim to be in the wrong. Louis, brought up by Mazarin and Anne of Austria, knew better than anyone else his vocation as a monarch; he therefore endeavored to prove it on the present occasion. After a few moment’s pause, which he had employed in making silently to himself the same reflections which we have just expressed aloud, he said, in an indifferent tone: “What did the comte say?”

“Nothing at all, sire.”

“Surely he did not allow himself to be arrested without saying something?”

“He said he expected to be arrested, sire.”

The king raised his head haughtily. “I presume,” he said, “that M. le Comte de la Fère has not continued to play his obstinate and rebellious part.”

“In the first place, sire, what do you wish to signify by rebellious?” quietly asked the musketeer. “A rebel, in the eyes of the king, is a man who not only allows himself to be shut up in the Bastille, but still more, who opposes those who do not wish to take him there.”

“Who do not wish to take him there!” exclaimed the king. “What do you say, captain! Are you mad?”

“I believe not, sire.”

“You speak of persons who did not wish to arrest M. de la Fère! Who are those persons, may I ask?”

“I should say those whom Your Majesty entrusted with that duty.”

“But it was you whom I entrusted with it,” exclaimed the king.

“Yes, sire; it was I.”

“And yet you say that, despite my orders, you had the intention of not arresting the man who had insulted me!”

“Yes, sire⁠—that was really my intention. I even proposed to the comte to mount a horse that I had prepared for him at the Barrière de la Conférence.”

“And what was your object in getting this horse ready?”

“Why, sire, in order that M. le Comte de la Fère might be able to reach Le Havre, and from that place make his escape to England.”

“You betrayed me, then, Monsieur?” cried the king, kindling with a wild pride.

“Exactly so.”

There was nothing to say in answer to statements made in such a tone; the king was astounded at such an obstinate and open resistance on the part of d’Artagnan. “At least you had a reason, Monsieur d’Artagnan, for acting as you did?” said the king, proudly.

“I have always a reason for everything, sire.”

“Your reason cannot be your friendship for the comte, at all events⁠—the only one that can be of any avail, the only one that could possibly excuse you⁠—for I placed you perfectly at your ease in that respect.”

“Me, sire?”

“Did I not give you the choice to arrest, or not to arrest M. le Comte de la Fère?”

“Yes, sire, but⁠—”

“But what?” exclaimed the king, impatiently.

“But you warned me, sire, that if I did not arrest him, your captain of the guard should do so.”

“Was I not considerate enough towards you, from the very moment I did not compel you to obey me?”

“To me, sire, you were, but not to my friend, for my friend would be arrested all the same, whether by myself or by the captain of the Guards.”

“And this is your devotion, Monsieur! a devotion which argues and reasons. You are no soldier, Monsieur!”

“I wait for Your Majesty to tell me what I am.”

“Well, then⁠—you are a Frondeur.”

“And since there is no longer any Fronde, sire, in that case⁠—”

“But if what you say is true⁠—”

“What I say is always true, sire.”

“What have you come to say to me, Monsieur?”

“I have come to say to Your Majesty, ‘Sire, M. de la Fère is in the Bastille.’ ”

“That is not your fault, it would seem.”

“That is true, sire; but at all events he is there; and since he is there, it is important that Your Majesty should know it.”

“Ah! Monsieur d’Artagnan, so you set your king at defiance.”

“Sire⁠—”

“Monsieur d’Artagnan! I warn you that you are abusing my patience.”

“On the contrary, sire.”

“What do you mean by ‘on the contrary’?”

“I have come to get myself arrested, too.”

“To get yourself arrested⁠—you!”

“Of course. My friend will get wearied to death in the Bastille by himself; and I have come to propose to Your Majesty to permit me to bear him company; if Your Majesty will but give me the word, I will arrest myself; I shall not need the captain of the Guards for that, I assure you.”

The king darted towards the table and seized hold of a pen to write the order for d’Artagnan’s imprisonment. “Pay attention, Monsieur, that this is forever,” cried the king, in tones of sternest menace.

“I can quite believe that,” returned the musketeer; “for when you have once done such an act as that, you will never be able to look me in the face again.”

The king dashed down his pen violently. “Leave the room, Monsieur!” he said.

“Not so, if it please Your Majesty.”

“What is that you say?”

“Sire, I came to speak gently and temperately to Your Majesty; Your Majesty got into a passion with me; that is a misfortune; but I shall not the less on that account say what I had to say to you.”

“Your resignation, Monsieur⁠—your resignation!” cried the king.

“Sire, you know whether I care about my resignation or not, since at Blois, on the very day when you refused King Charles the million which my friend the Comte de la Fère gave him, I then tendered my resignation to Your Majesty.”

“Very well, Monsieur⁠—do it at once!”

“No, sire; for there is no question of my resignation at the present moment. Your Majesty took up your pen just now to send me to the Bastille⁠—why should you change your intention?”

“D’Artagnan! Gascon that you are! who is the king, allow me to ask⁠—you or myself?”

“You, sire, unfortunately.”

“What do you mean by ‘unfortunately’?”

“Yes, sire; for if it were I⁠—”

“If it were you, you would approve of M. d’Artagnan’s rebellious conduct, I suppose?”

“Certainly.”

“Really!” said the king, shrugging his shoulders.

“And I should tell my captain of the Musketeers,” continued d’Artagnan, “I should tell him, looking at him all the while with human eyes, and not with eyes like coals of fire, ‘M. d’Artagnan, I had forgotten that I was the king, for I descended from my throne in order to insult a gentleman.’ ”

“Monsieur,” said the king, “do you think you can excuse your friend by exceeding him in insolence?”

“Oh! sire! I should go much further than he did,” said d’Artagnan; “and it would be your own fault. I should tell you what he, a man full of the finest sense of delicacy, did not tell you; I should say⁠—‘Sire, you have sacrificed his son, and he defended his son⁠—you sacrificed himself; he addressed you in the name of honor, of religion, of virtue⁠—you repulsed, drove him away, imprisoned him.’ I should be harder than he was, for I should say to you⁠—‘Sire; it is for you to choose. Do you wish to have friends or lackeys⁠—soldiers or slaves⁠—great men or mere puppets? Do you wish men to serve you, or to bend and crouch before you? Do you wish men to love you, or to be afraid of you? If you prefer baseness, intrigue, cowardice, say so at once, sire, and we will leave you⁠—we who are the only individuals who are left⁠—nay, I will say more, the only models of the valor of former times; we who have done our duty, and have exceeded, perhaps, in courage and in merit, the men already great for posterity. Choose, sire! and that, too, without delay. Whatever relics remain to you of the great nobility, guard them with a jealous eye; you will never be deficient in courtiers. Delay not⁠—and send me to the Bastille with my friend; for, if you did not know how to listen to the Comte de la Fère, whose voice is the sweetest and noblest in all the world when honor is the theme; if you do not know how to listen to d’Artagnan, the frankest and honestest voice of sincerity, you are a bad king, and tomorrow will be a poor king. And learn from me, sire, that bad kings are hated by their people, and poor kings are driven ignominiously away.’ That is what I had to say to you, sire; you were wrong to drive me to say it.”

The king threw himself back in his chair, cold as death, and as livid as a corpse. Had a thunderbolt fallen at his feet, he could not have been more astonished; he seemed as if his respiration had utterly ceased, and that he was at the point of death. The honest voice of sincerity, as d’Artagnan had called it, had pierced through his heart like a sword-blade.

D’Artagnan had said all he had to say. Comprehending the king’s anger, he drew his sword, and, approaching Louis XIV respectfully, he placed it on the table. But the king, with a furious gesture, thrust aside the sword, which fell on the ground and rolled to d’Artagnan’s feet. Notwithstanding the perfect mastery which d’Artagnan exercised over himself, he, too, in his turn, became pale, and, trembling with indignation, said: “A king may disgrace a soldier⁠—he may exile him, and may even condemn him to death; but were he a hundred times a king, he has no right to insult him by casting a dishonor upon his sword! Sire, a king of France has never repulsed with contempt the sword of a man such as I am! Stained with disgrace as this sword now is, it has henceforth no other sheath than either your heart or my own! I choose my own, sire; and you have to thank Heaven and my own patience that I do so.” Then snatching up his sword, he cried, “My blood be upon your head!” and, with a rapid gesture, he placed the hilt upon the floor and directed the point of the blade towards his breast. The king, however, with a movement far more rapid than that of d’Artagnan, threw his right arm around the musketeer’s neck, and with his left hand seized hold of the blade by the middle, and returned it silently to the scabbard. D’Artagnan, upright, pale, and still trembling, let the king do all to the very end. Louis, overcome and softened by gentler feelings, returned to the table, took a pen in his hand, wrote a few lines, signed them, and then held it out to d’Artagnan.

“What is this paper, sire?” inquired the captain.

“An order for M. d’Artagnan to set the Comte de la Fère at liberty immediately.”

D’Artagnan seized the king’s hand, and imprinted a kiss upon it; he then folded the order, placed it in his belt, and quitted the room. Neither the king nor the captain had uttered a syllable.

“Oh, human heart! thou guide and director of kings,” murmured Louis, when alone, “when shall I learn to read in your inmost recesses, as in the leaves of a book! Oh, I am not a bad king⁠—nor am I a poor king; I am but still a child, when all is said and done.”

CHAPTER 26

Political Rivals
D’Artagnan had promised M. de Baisemeaux to return in time for dessert, and he kept his word. They had just reached the finer and more delicate class of wines and liqueurs with which the governor’s cellar had the reputation of being most admirably stocked, when the silver spurs of the captain resounded in the corridor, and he himself appeared at the threshold. Athos and Aramis had played a close game; neither of the two had been able to gain the slightest advantage over the other. They had supped, talked a good deal about the Bastille, of the last journey to Fontainebleau, of the intended fête that M. Fouquet was about to give at Vaux; they had generalized on every possible subject; and no one, excepting Baisemeaux, had in the slightest degree alluded to private matters. D’Artagnan arrived in the very midst of the conversation, still pale and much disturbed by his interview with the king. Baisemeaux hastened to give him a chair; d’Artagnan accepted a glass of wine, and set it down empty. Athos and Aramis both remarked his emotion; as for Baisemeaux, he saw nothing more than the captain of the king’s Musketeers, to whom he endeavored to show every possible attention. But, although Aramis had remarked his emotion, he had not been able to guess the cause of it. Athos alone believed he had detected it. For him, d’Artagnan’s return, and particularly the manner in which he, usually so impassible, seemed overcome, signified, “I have just asked the king something which the king has refused me.” Thoroughly convinced that his conjecture was correct, Athos smiled, rose from the table, and made a sign to d’Artagnan, as if to remind him that they had something else to do than to sup together. D’Artagnan immediately understood him, and replied by another sign. Aramis and Baisemeaux watched this silent dialogue, and looked inquiringly at each other. Athos felt that he was called upon to give an explanation of what was passing.

“The truth is, my friend,” said the Comte de la Fère, with a smile, “that you, Aramis, have been supping with a state criminal, and you, Monsieur de Baisemeaux, with your prisoner.”

Baisemeaux uttered an exclamation of surprise, and almost of delight; for he was exceedingly proud and vain of his fortress, and for his own individual profit, the more prisoners he had, the happier he was, and the higher in rank the prisoners happened to be, the prouder he felt. Aramis assumed the expression of countenance he thought the position justified, and said, “Well, dear Athos, forgive me, but I almost suspected what has happened. Some prank of Raoul and La Vallière, I suppose?”

“Alas!” said Baisemeaux.

“And,” continued Aramis, “you, a high and powerful nobleman as you are, forgetful that courtiers now exist⁠—you have been to the king, I suppose, and told him what you thought of his conduct?”

“Yes, you have guessed right.”

“So that,” said Baisemeaux, trembling at having supped so familiarly with a man who had fallen into disgrace with the king; “so that, Monsieur le Comte⁠—”

“So that, my dear governor,” said Athos, “my friend d’Artagnan will communicate to you the contents of the paper which I perceived just peeping out of his belt, and which assuredly can be nothing else than the order for my incarceration.”

Baisemeaux held out his hand with his accustomed eagerness. D’Artagnan drew two papers from his belt, and presented one of them to the governor, who unfolded it, and then read, in a low tone of voice, looking at Athos over the paper, as he did so, and pausing from time to time: “ ‘Order to detain, in my château of the Bastille, Monsieur le Comte de la Fère.’ Oh, Monsieur! this is indeed a very melancholy day for me.”

“You will have a patient prisoner, Monsieur,” said Athos, in his calm, soft voice.

“A prisoner, too, who will not remain a month with you, my dear governor,” said Aramis; while Baisemeaux, still holding the order in his hand, transcribed it upon the prison registry.

“Not a day, or rather not even a night,” said d’Artagnan, displaying the second order of the king, “for now, dear M. de Baisemeaux, you will have the goodness to transcribe also this order for setting the comte immediately at liberty.”

“Ah!” said Aramis, “it is a labor that you have deprived me of, d’Artagnan”; and he pressed the musketeer’s hand in a significant manner, at the same moment as that of Athos.

“What!” said the latter in astonishment, “the king sets me at liberty!”

“Read, my dear friend,” returned d’Artagnan.

Athos took the order and read it. “It is quite true,” he said.

“Are you sorry for it?” asked d’Artagnan.

“Oh, no, on the contrary. I wish the king no harm; and the greatest evil or misfortune that anyone can wish kings, is that they should commit an act of injustice. But you have had a difficult and painful task, I know. Tell me, have you not, d’Artagnan?”

“I? not at all,” said the musketeer, laughing: “the king does everything I wish him to do.”

Aramis looked fixedly at d’Artagnan, and saw that he was not speaking the truth. But Baisemeaux had eyes for nothing but d’Artagnan, so great was his admiration for a man who seemed to make the king do all he wished.

“And does the king exile Athos?” inquired Aramis.

“No, not precisely; the king did not explain himself upon that subject,” replied d’Artagnan; “but I think the comte could not well do better unless, indeed, he wishes particularly to thank the king⁠—”

“No, indeed,” replied Athos, smiling.

“Well, then, I think,” resumed d’Artagnan, “that the comte cannot do better than to retire to his own château. However, my dear Athos, you have only to speak, to tell me what you want. If any particular place of residence is more agreeable to you than another, I am influential enough, perhaps, to obtain it for you.”

“No, thank you,” said Athos; “nothing can be more agreeable to me, my dear friend, than to return to my solitude beneath my noble trees on the banks of the Loire. If Heaven be the overruling physician of the evils of the mind, nature is a sovereign remedy. And so, Monsieur,” continued Athos, turning again towards Baisemeaux, “I am now free, I suppose?”

“Yes, Monsieur le Comte, I think so⁠—at least, I hope so,” said the governor, turning over and over the two papers in question, “unless, however, M. d’Artagnan has a third order to give me.”

“No, my dear Baisemeaux, no,” said the musketeer; “the second is quite enough: we will stop there⁠—if you please.”

“Ah! Monsieur le Comte,” said Baisemeaux addressing Athos, “you do not know what you are losing. I should have placed you among the thirty-franc prisoners, like the generals⁠—what am I saying?⁠—I mean among the fifty-francs, like the princes, and you would have supped every evening as you have done tonight.”

“Allow me, Monsieur,” said Athos, “to prefer my own simpler fare.” And then, turning to d’Artagnan, he said, “Let us go, my dear friend. Shall I have that greatest of all pleasures for me⁠—that of having you as my companion?”

“To the city gate only,” replied d’Artagnan, “after which I will tell you what I told the king: ‘I am on duty.’ ”

“And you, my dear Aramis,” said Athos, smiling; “will you accompany me? La Fère is on the road to Vannes.”

“Thank you, my dear friend,” said Aramis, “but I have an appointment in Paris this evening, and I cannot leave without very serious interests suffering by my absence.”

“In that case,” said Athos, “I must say adieu, and take my leave of you. My dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux, I have to thank you exceedingly for your kind and friendly disposition towards me, and particularly for the enjoyable specimen you have given me of the ordinary fare of the Bastille.” And, having embraced Aramis, and shaken hands with M. de Baisemeaux, and having received best wishes for a pleasant journey from them both, Athos set off with d’Artagnan.

Whilst the denouement of the scene of the Palais Royal was taking place at the Bastille, let us relate what was going on at the lodgings of Athos and Bragelonne. Grimaud, as we have seen, had accompanied his master to Paris; and, as we have said, he was present when Athos went out; he had observed d’Artagnan gnaw the corners of his mustache; he had seen his master get into the carriage; he had narrowly examined both their countenances, and he had known them both for a sufficiently long period to read and understand, through the mask of their impassibility, that something serious was the matter. As soon as Athos had gone, he began to reflect; he then, and then only, remembered the strange manner in which Athos had taken leave of him, the embarrassment⁠—imperceptible as it would have been to any but himself⁠—of the master whose ideas were, to him, so clear and defined, and the expression of whose wishes was so precise. He knew that Athos had taken nothing with him but the clothes he had on him at the time; and yet he seemed to fancy that Athos had not left for an hour merely; or even for a day. A long absence was signified by the manner in which he pronounced the word “Adieu.” All these circumstances recurred to his mind, with feelings of deep affection for Athos, with that horror of isolation and solitude which invariably besets the minds of those who love; and all these combined rendered poor Grimaud very melancholy, and particularly very uneasy. Without being able to account to himself for what he did since his master’s departure, he wandered about the room, seeking, as it were, for some traces of him, like a faithful dog, who is not exactly uneasy about his absent master, but at least is restless. Only as, in addition to the instinct of the animal, Grimaud subjoined the reasoning faculties of the man, Grimaud therefore felt uneasy and restless too. Not having found any indication which could serve as a guide, and having neither seen nor discovered anything which could satisfy his doubts, Grimaud began to wonder what could possibly have happened. Besides, imagination is the resource, or rather the plague of gentle and affectionate hearts. In fact, never does a feeling heart represent its absent friend to itself as being happy or cheerful. Never does the dove that wings its flight in search of adventures inspire anything but terror at home.

Grimaud soon passed from uneasiness to terror; he carefully went over, in his own mind, everything that had taken place: D’Artagnan’s letter to Athos, the letter which had seemed to distress Athos so much after he had read it; then Raoul’s visit to Athos, which resulted in Athos desiring him (Grimaud) to get his various orders and his court dress ready to put on; then his interview with the king, at the end of which Athos had returned home so unusually gloomy; then the explanation between the father and the son, at the termination of which Athos had embraced Raoul with such sadness of expression while Raoul himself went away equally weary and melancholy; and finally, d’Artagnan’s arrival, biting, as if he were vexed, the end of his mustache, and leaving again in the carriage, accompanied by the Comte de la Fère. All this composed a drama in five acts very clearly, particularly for so analytical an observer as Grimaud.

The first step he took was to search in his master’s coat for M. d’Artagnan’s letter; he found the letter still there, and its contents were found to run as follows:

“My dear Friend⁠—Raoul has been to ask me for some particulars about the conduct of Mademoiselle de La Vallière, during our young friend’s residence in London. I am a poor captain of Musketeers, and I am sickened to death every day by hearing all the scandal of the barracks and bedside conversations. If I had told Raoul all I believe, I know the poor fellow would have died of it; but I am in the king’s service, and cannot relate all I hear about the king’s affairs. If your heart tells you to do it, set off at once; the matter concerns you more than it does myself, and almost as much as Raoul.”

Grimaud tore, not a handful, but a finger-and-thumbful of hair out of his head; he would have done more if his head of hair had been in a more flourishing condition.

“Yes,” he said, “that is the key of the whole enigma. The young girl has been playing her pranks; what people say about her and the king is true, then; our young master has been deceived; he ought to know it. Monsieur le Comte has been to see the king, and has told him a piece of his mind; and then the king sent M. d’Artagnan to arrange the affair. Ah! gracious goodness!” continued Grimaud, “Monsieur le Comte, I now remember, returned without his sword.”

This discovery made the perspiration break out all over poor Grimaud’s face. He did not waste any more time in useless conjecture, but clapped his hat on his head, and ran to Raoul’s lodgings.

Raoul, after Louise had left him, had mastered his grief, if not his affection; and, compelled to look forward on that perilous road over which madness and revulsion were hurrying him, he had seen, from the very first glance, his father exposed to the royal obstinacy, since Athos had himself been the first to oppose any resistance to the royal will. At this moment, from a very natural sequence of feeling, the unhappy young man remembered the mysterious signs which Athos had made, and the unexpected visit of d’Artagnan; the result of the conflict between a sovereign and a subject revealed itself to his terrified vision. As d’Artagnan was on duty, that is, a fixture at his post without the possibility of leaving it, it was certainly not likely that he had come to pay Athos a visit merely for the pleasure of seeing him. He must have come to say something to him. This something in the midst of such painful conjectures must have been the news of either a misfortune or a danger. Raoul trembled at having been so selfish as to have forgotten his father for his affection; at having, in a word, passed his time in idle dreams, or in an indulgence of despair, at a time when a necessity existed for repelling such an imminent attack on Athos. The very idea nearly drove him frantic; he buckled on his sword and ran towards his father’s lodgings. On his way there he encountered Grimaud, who, having set off from the opposite pole, was running with equal eagerness in search of the truth. The two men embraced each other most warmly.

“Grimaud,” exclaimed Raoul, “is the comte well?”

“Have you seen him?”

“No; where is he?”

“I am trying to find out.”

“And M. d’Artagnan?”

“Went out with him.”

“When?”

“Ten minutes after you did.”

“In what way did they go out?”

“In a carriage.”

“Where did they go?”

“I have no idea at all.”

“Did my father take any money with him?”

“No.”

“Or his sword?”

“No.”

“I have an idea, Grimaud, that M. d’Artagnan came in order to⁠—”

“Arrest Monsieur le Comte, do you not think, Monsieur?”

“Yes, Grimaud.”

“I could have sworn it.”

“What road did they take?”

“The way leading towards the quay.”

“To the Bastille, then?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Quick, quick; let us run.”

“Yes, let us not lose a moment.”

“But where are we to go?” said Raoul, overwhelmed.

“We will go to M. d’Artagnan’s first, we may perhaps learn something there.”

“No; if they keep me in ignorance at my father’s, they will do the same everywhere. Let us go to⁠—Oh, good heavens! why, I must be mad today, Grimaud; I have forgotten M. du Vallon, who is waiting for and expecting me still.”

“Where is he, then?”

“At the Minimes of Vincennes.”

“Thank goodness, that is on the same side as the Bastille. I will run and saddle the horses, and we will go at once,” said Grimaud.

“Do, my friend, do.”

CHAPTER 27

In Which Porthos Is Convinced Without Having Understood Anything
The good and worthy Porthos, faithful to all the laws of ancient chivalry, had determined to wait for M. de Saint-Aignan until sunset; and as Saint-Aignan did not come, as Raoul had forgotten to communicate with his second, and as he found that waiting so long was very wearisome, Porthos had desired one of the gatekeepers to fetch him a few bottles of good wine and a good joint of meat⁠—so that, at least, he might pass away the time by means of a glass or two and a mouthful of something to eat. He had just finished when Raoul arrived, escorted by Grimaud, both of them riding at full speed. As soon as Porthos saw the two cavaliers riding at such a pace along the road, he did not for a moment doubt but that they were the men he was expecting, and he rose from the grass upon which he had been indolently reclining and began to stretch his legs and arms, saying, “See what it is to have good habits. The fellow has finished by coming, after all. If I had gone away he would have found no one here and would have taken advantage of that.” He then threw himself into a martial attitude, and drew himself up to the full height of his gigantic stature. But instead of Saint-Aignan, he only saw Raoul, who, with the most despairing gestures, accosted him by crying out, “Pray forgive me, my dear friend, I am most wretched.”

“Raoul!” cried Porthos, surprised.

“You have been angry with me?” said Raoul, embracing Porthos.

“I? What for?”

“For having forgotten you. But I assure you my head seems utterly lost. If you only knew!”

“You have killed him?”

“Who?”

“Saint-Aignan; or, if that is not the case, what is the matter?”

“The matter is, that Monsieur le Comte de la Fère has by this time been arrested.”

Porthos gave a start that would have thrown down a wall.

“Arrested!” he cried out; “by whom?”

“By d’Artagnan.”

“It is impossible,” said Porthos.

“My dear friend, it is perfectly true.”

Porthos turned towards Grimaud, as if he needed a second confirmation of the intelligence. Grimaud nodded his head. “And where have they taken him?”

“Probably to the Bastille.”

“What makes you think that?”

“As we came along we questioned some persons, who saw the carriage pass; and others who saw it enter the Bastille.”

“Oh!” muttered Porthos.

“What do you intend to do?” inquired Raoul.

“I? Nothing; only I will not have Athos remain at the Bastille.”

“Do you know,” said Raoul, advancing nearer to Porthos, “that the arrest was made by order of the king?”

Porthos looked at the young man, as if to say, “What does that matter to me?” This dumb language seemed so eloquent of meaning to Raoul that he did not ask any other question. He mounted his horse again; and Porthos, assisted by Grimaud, had already done the same.

“Let us arrange our plan of action,” said Raoul.

“Yes,” returned Porthos, “that is the best thing we can do.”

Raoul sighed deeply, and then paused suddenly.

“What is the matter?” asked Porthos; “are you faint?”

“No, only I feel how utterly helpless our position is. Can we three pretend to go and take the Bastille?”

“Well, if d’Artagnan were only here,” replied Porthos, “I am not so very certain we would fail.”

Raoul could not resist a feeling of admiration at the sight of such perfect confidence, heroic in its simplicity. These were truly the celebrated men who, by three or four, attacked armies and assaulted castles! Men who had terrified death itself, who had survived the wrecks of a tempestuous age, and still stood, stronger than the most robust of the young.

“Monsieur,” said he to Porthos, “you have just given me an idea; we absolutely must see M. d’Artagnan.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“He ought by this time to have returned home, after having taken my father to the Bastille. Let us go to his house.”

“First inquire at the Bastille,” said Grimaud, who was in the habit of speaking little, but that to the purpose.

Accordingly, they hastened towards the fortress, when one of those chances which Heaven bestows on men of strong will caused Grimaud suddenly to perceive the carriage, which was entering by the great gate of the drawbridge. This was the moment that d’Artagnan was, as we have seen, returning from his visit to the king. In vain was it that Raoul urged on his horse in order to join the carriage, and to see whom it contained. The horses had already gained the other side of the great gate, which again closed, while one of the sentries struck the nose of Raoul’s horse with his musket; Raoul turned about, only too happy to find he had ascertained something respecting the carriage which had contained his father.

“We have him,” said Grimaud.

“If we wait a little it is certain he will leave; don’t you think so, my friend?”

“Unless, indeed, d’Artagnan also be a prisoner,” replied Porthos, “in which case everything is lost.”

Raoul returned no answer, for any hypothesis was admissible. He instructed Grimaud to lead the horses to the little street Jean-Beausire, so as to give rise to less suspicion, and himself with his piercing gaze watched for the exit either of d’Artagnan or the carriage. Nor had he decided wrongly; for twenty minutes had not elapsed before the gate reopened and the carriage reappeared. A dazzling of the eyes prevented Raoul from distinguishing what figures occupied the interior. Grimaud averred that he had seen two persons, and that one of them was his master. Porthos kept looking at Raoul and Grimaud by turns, in the hope of understanding their idea.

“It is clear,” said Grimaud, “that if the comte is in the carriage, either he is set at liberty or they are taking him to another prison.”

“We shall soon see that by the road he takes,” answered Porthos.

“If he is set at liberty,” said Grimaud, “they will conduct him home.”

“True,” rejoined Porthos.

“The carriage does not take that way,” cried Raoul; and indeed the horses were just disappearing down the Faubourg St. Antoine.

“Let us hasten,” said Porthos; “we will attack the carriage on the road and tell Athos to flee.”

“Rebellion,” murmured Raoul.

Porthos darted a second glance at Raoul, quite worthy of the first. Raoul replied only by spurring the flanks of his steed. In a few moments the three cavaliers had overtaken the carriage, and followed it so closely that their horses’ breath moistened the back of it. D’Artagnan, whose senses were ever on the alert, heard the trot of the horses, at the moment when Raoul was telling Porthos to pass the chariot, so as to see who was the person accompanying Athos. Porthos complied, but could not see anything, for the blinds were lowered. Rage and impatience were gaining mastery over Raoul. He had just noticed the mystery preserved by Athos’s companion, and determined on proceeding to extremities. On his part d’Artagnan had perfectly recognized Porthos, and Raoul also, from under the blinds, and had communicated to the comte the result of his observation. They were desirous only of seeing whether Raoul and Porthos would push the affair to the uttermost. And this they speedily did, for Raoul, presenting his pistol, threw himself on the leader, commanding the coachmen to stop. Porthos seized the coachman, and dragged him from his seat. Grimaud already had hold of the carriage door. Raoul threw open his arms, exclaiming, “M. le Comte! M. le Comte!”

“Ah! is it you, Raoul?” said Athos, intoxicated with joy.

“Not bad, indeed!” added d’Artagnan, with a burst of laughter, and they both embraced the young man and Porthos, who had taken possession of them.

“My brave Porthos! best of friends,” cried Athos, “it is still the same old way with you.”

“He is still only twenty,” said d’Artagnan, “brave Porthos!”

“Confound it,” answered Porthos, slightly confused, “we thought that you were being arrested.”

“While,” rejoined Athos, “the matter in question was nothing but my taking a drive in M. d’Artagnan’s carriage.”

“But we followed you from the Bastille,” returned Raoul, with a tone of suspicion and reproach.

“Where we had been to take supper with our friend M. Baisemeaux. Do you recollect Baisemeaux, Porthos?”

“Very well, indeed.”

“And there we saw Aramis.”

“In the Bastille?”

“At supper.”

“Ah!” said Porthos, again breathing freely.

“He gave us a thousand messages to you.”

“And where is M. le Comte going?” asked Grimaud, already recompensed by a smile from his master.

“We were going home to Blois.”

“How can that be?”

“At once?” said Raoul.

“Yes, right forward.”

“Without any luggage?”

“Oh! Raoul would have been instructed to forward me mine, or to bring it with him on his return, if he returns.”

“If nothing detains him longer in Paris,” said d’Artagnan, with a glance firm and cutting as steel, and as painful (for it reopened the poor young fellow’s wounds), “he will do well to follow you, Athos.”

“There is nothing to keep me any longer in Paris,” said Raoul.

“Then we will go immediately.”

“And M. d’Artagnan?”

“Oh! as for me, I was only accompanying Athos as far as the barrier, and I return with Porthos.”

“Very good,” said the latter.

“Come, my son,” added the comte, gently passing his arm around Raoul’s neck to draw him into the carriage, and again embracing him. “Grimaud,” continued the comte, “you will return quietly to Paris with your horse and M. du Vallon’s, for Raoul and I will mount here and give up the carriage to these two gentlemen to return to Paris in; and then, as soon as you arrive, you will take my clothes and letters and forward the whole to me at home.”

“But,” observed Raoul, who was anxious to make the comte converse, “when you return to Paris, there will not be a single thing there for you⁠—which will be very inconvenient.”

“I think it will be a very long time, Raoul, ere I return to Paris. The last sojourn we have made there has not been of a nature to encourage me to repeat it.”

Raoul hung down his head and said not a word more. Athos descended from the carriage and mounted the horse which had brought Porthos, and which seemed no little pleased at the exchange. Then they embraced, and clasped each other’s hands, and interchanged a thousand pledges of eternal friendship. Porthos promised to spend a month with Athos at the first opportunity. D’Artagnan engaged to take advantage of his first leave of absence; and then, having embraced Raoul for the last time: “To you, my boy,” said he, “I will write.” Coming from d’Artagnan, who he knew wrote very seldom, these words expressed everything. Raoul was moved even to tears. He tore himself away from the musketeer and departed.

D’Artagnan rejoined Porthos in the carriage: “Well,” said he, “my dear friend, what a day we have had!”

“Indeed we have,” answered Porthos.

“You must be quite worn out.”

“Not quite; however, I shall retire early to rest, so as to be ready for tomorrow.”

“And wherefore?”

“Why! to complete what I have begun.”

“You make me shudder, my friend, you seem to me quite angry. What the devil have you begun which is not finished?”

“Listen; Raoul has not fought, but I must fight!”

“With whom? with the king?”

“How!” exclaimed Porthos, astounded, “with the king?”

“Yes, I say, you great baby, with the king.”

“I assure you it is with M. Saint-Aignan.”

“Look now, this is what I mean; you draw your sword against the king in fighting with this gentleman.”

“Ah!” said Porthos, staring; “are you sure of it?”

“Indeed I am.”

“What in the world are we to do, then?”

“We must try and make a good supper, Porthos. The captain of the Musketeers keeps a tolerable table. There you will see the handsome Saint-Aignan, and will drink his health.”

“I?” cried Porthos, horrified.

“What!” said d’Artagnan, “you refuse to drink the king’s health?”

“But, body alive! I am not talking to you about the king at all; I am speaking of M. de Saint-Aignan.”

“But when I repeat that it is the same thing?”

“Ah, well, well!” said Porthos, overcome.

“You understand, don’t you?”

“No,” answered Porthos, “but ’tis all the same.”

CHAPTER 28

M. de Baisemeaux’s “Society”
The reader has not forgotten that, on quitting the Bastille, d’Artagnan and the Comte de la Fère had left Aramis in close confabulation with Baisemeaux. When once these two guests had departed, Baisemeaux did not in the least perceive that the conversation suffered by their absence. He used to think that wine after supper, and that of the Bastille in particular, was excellent, and that it was a stimulant quite sufficient to make any honest man talkative. But he little knew his Greatness, who was never more impenetrable than at dessert. His Greatness, however, perfectly understood M. de Baisemeaux, when he reckoned on making the governor discourse by the means which the latter regarded as efficacious. The conversation, therefore, without flagging in appearance, flagged in reality; for Baisemeaux not only had it nearly all to himself, but further, kept speaking only of that singular event⁠—the incarceration of Athos⁠—followed by so prompt an order to set him again at liberty. Nor, moreover, had Baisemeaux failed to observe that the two orders, of arrest and of liberation, were both in the king’s hand. But then, the king would not take the trouble to write similar orders except under pressing circumstances. All this was very interesting, and, above all, very puzzling to Baisemeaux; but as, on the other hand, all this was very clear to Aramis, the latter did not attach to the occurrence the same importance as did the worthy governor. Besides, Aramis rarely put himself out of the way for anything, and he had not yet told M. de Baisemeaux for what reason he had now done so. And so at the very climax of Baisemeaux’s dissertation, Aramis suddenly interrupted him.

“Tell me, my dear Baisemeaux,” said he, “have you never had any other diversions at the Bastille than those at which I assisted during the two or three visits I have had the honor to pay you?”

This address was so unexpected that the governor, like a vane which suddenly receives an impulsion opposed to that of the wind, was quite dumbfounded at it. “Diversions!” said he; “but I take them continually, Monseigneur.”

“Oh, to be sure! And these diversions?”

“Are of every kind.”

“Visits, no doubt?”

“No, not visits. Visits are not frequent at the Bastille.”

“What, are visits rare, then?”

“Very much so.”

“Even on the part of your society?”

“What do you term my society⁠—the prisoners?”

“Oh, no!⁠—your prisoners, indeed! I know well it is you who visit them, and not they you. By your society, I mean, my dear Baisemeaux, the society of which you are a member.”

Baisemeaux looked fixedly at Aramis, and then, as if the idea which had flashed across his mind were impossible, “Oh,” he said, “I have very little society at present. If I must own it to you, dear M. d’Herblay, the fact is, to stay at the Bastille appears, for the most part, distressing and distasteful to persons of the gay world. As for the ladies, it is never without a certain dread, which costs me infinite trouble to allay, that they succeed in reaching my quarters. And, indeed, how should they avoid trembling a little, poor things, when they see those gloomy dungeons, and reflect that they are inhabited by prisoners who⁠—” And in proportion as the eyes of Baisemeaux concentrated their gaze on the face of Aramis, the worthy governor’s tongue faltered more and more until it ended by stopping altogether.

“No, you don’t understand me, my dear M. Baisemeaux; you don’t understand me. I do not at all mean to speak of society in general, but of a particular society⁠—of the society, in a word⁠—to which you are affiliated.”

Baisemeaux nearly dropped the glass of muscat which he was in the act of raising to his lips. “Affiliated,” cried he, “affiliated!”

“Yes, affiliated, undoubtedly,” repeated Aramis, with the greatest self-possession. “Are you not a member of a secret society, my dear M. Baisemeaux?”

“Secret?”

“Secret or mysterious.”

“Oh, M. d’Herblay!”

“Consider, now, don’t deny it.”

“But believe me.”

“I believe what I know.”

“I swear to you.”

“Listen to me, my dear M. Baisemeaux; I say yes, you say no; one of us two necessarily says what is true, and the other, it inevitably follows, what is false.”

“Well, and then?”

“Well, we shall come to an understanding presently.”

“Let us see,” said Baisemeaux; “let us see.”

“Now drink your glass of muscat, dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis. “What the devil! you look quite scared.”

“No, no; not the least in the world; oh, no.”

“Drink then.” Baisemeaux drank, but he swallowed the wrong way.

“Well,” resumed Aramis, “if, I say, you are not a member of a secret or mysterious society, which you like to call it⁠—the epithet is of no consequence⁠—if, I say, you are not a member of a society similar to that I wish to designate, well, then, you will not understand a word of what I am going to say. That is all.”

“Oh! be sure beforehand that I shall not understand anything.”

“Well, well!”

“Try, now; let us see!”

“That is what I am going to do. If, on the contrary, you are one of the members of this society, you will immediately answer me⁠—yes or no.”

“Begin your questions,” continued Baisemeaux, trembling.

“You will agree, dear Monsieur de Baisemeaux,” continued Aramis, with the same impassibility, “that it is evident a man cannot be a member of a society, it is evident that he cannot enjoy the advantages it offers to the affiliated, without being himself bound to certain little services.”

“In short,” stammered Baisemeaux, “that would be intelligible, if⁠—”

“Well,” resumed Aramis, “there is in the society of which I speak, and of which, as it seems you are not a member⁠—”

“Allow me,” said Baisemeaux. “I should not like to say absolutely.”

“There is an engagement entered into by all the governors and captains of fortresses affiliated to the order.” Baisemeaux grew pale.

“Now the engagement,” continued Aramis firmly, “is of this nature.”

Baisemeaux rose, manifesting unspeakable emotion: “Go on, dear M. d’Herblay: go on,” said he.

Aramis then spoke, or rather recited the following paragraph, in the same tone as if he had been reading it from a book: “The aforesaid captain or governor of a fortress shall allow to enter, when need shall arise, and on demand of the prisoner, a confessor affiliated to the order.” He stopped. Baisemeaux was quite distressing to look at, being so wretchedly pale and trembling. “Is not that the text of the agreement?” quietly asked Aramis.

“Monseigneur!” began Baisemeaux.

“Ah! well, you begin to understand, I think.”

“Monseigneur,” cried Baisemeaux, “do not trifle so with my unhappy mind! I find myself as nothing in your hands, if you have the malignant desire to draw from me the little secrets of my administration.”

“Oh! by no means; pray undeceive yourself, dear M. Baisemeaux; it is not the little secrets of your administration, but those of your conscience that I aim at.”

“Well, then, my conscience be it, dear M. d’Herblay. But have some consideration for the situation I am in, which is no ordinary one.”

“It is no ordinary one, my dear Monsieur,” continued the inflexible Aramis, “if you are a member of this society; but it is a quite natural one if free from all engagement. You are answerable only to the king.”

“Well, Monsieur, well! I obey only the king, and whom else would you have a French nobleman obey?”

Aramis did not yield an inch, but with that silvery voice of his continued: “It is very pleasant,” said he, “for a French nobleman, for a prelate of France, to hear a man of your mark express himself so loyally, dear de Baisemeaux, and having heard you to believe no more than you do.”

“Have you doubted, Monsieur?”

“I? oh, no!”

“And so you doubt no longer?”

“I have no longer any doubt that such a man as you, Monsieur,” said Aramis, gravely, “does not faithfully serve the masters whom he voluntarily chose for himself.”

“Masters!” cried Baisemeaux.

“Yes, masters, I said.”

“Monsieur d’Herblay, you are still jesting, are you not?”

“Oh, yes! I understand that it is a more difficult position to have several masters than one; but the embarrassment is owing to you, my dear Baisemeaux, and I am not the cause of it.”

“Certainly not,” returned the unfortunate governor, more embarrassed than ever; “but what are you doing? You are leaving the table?”

“Assuredly.”

“Are you going?”

“Yes, I am going.”

“But you are behaving very strangely towards me, Monseigneur.”

“I am behaving strangely⁠—how do you make that out?”

“Have you sworn, then, to put me to the torture?”

“No, I should be sorry to do so.”

“Remain, then.”

“I cannot.”

“And why?”

“Because I have no longer anything to do here; and, indeed, I have duties to fulfil elsewhere.”

“Duties, so late as this?”

“Yes; understand me now, my dear de Baisemeaux: they told me at the place whence I came, ‘The aforesaid governor or captain will allow to enter, as need shall arise, on the prisoner’s demand, a confessor affiliated with the order.’ I came; you do not know what I mean, and so I shall return to tell them that they are mistaken, and that they must send me elsewhere.”

“What! you are⁠—” cried Baisemeaux, looking at Aramis almost in terror.

“The confessor affiliated to the order,” said Aramis, without changing his voice.

But, gentle as the words were, they had the same effect on the unhappy governor as a clap of thunder. Baisemeaux became livid, and it seemed to him as if Aramis’s beaming eyes were two forks of flame, piercing to the very bottom of his soul. “The confessor!” murmured he; “you, Monseigneur, the confessor of the order!”

“Yes, I; but we have nothing to unravel together, seeing that you are not one of the affiliated.”

“Monseigneur!”

“And I understand that, not being so, you refuse to comply with its command.”

“Monseigneur, I beseech you, condescend to hear me.”

“And wherefore?”

“Monseigneur, I do not say that I have nothing to do with the society.”

“Ah! ah!”

“I say not that I refuse to obey.”

“Nevertheless, M. de Baisemeaux, what has passed wears very much the air of resistance.”

“Oh, no! Monseigneur, no; I only wished to be certain.”

“To be certain of what?” said Aramis, in a tone of supreme contempt.

“Of nothing at all, Monseigneur.” Baisemeaux lowered his voice, and bending before the prelate, said, “I am at all times and in all places at the disposal of my superiors, but⁠—”

“Very good. I like you better thus, Monsieur,” said Aramis, as he resumed his seat, and put out his glass to Baisemeaux, whose hand trembled so that he could not fill it. “You were saying ‘but’⁠—” continued Aramis.

“But,” replied the unhappy man, “having received no notice, I was very far from expecting it.”

“Does not the Gospel say, ‘Watch, for the moment is known only of God?’ Do not the rules of the order say, ‘Watch, for that which I will, you ought always to will also.’ And what pretext will serve you now that you did not expect the confessor, M. de Baisemeaux?”

“Because, Monseigneur, there is at present in the Bastille no prisoner ill.”

Aramis shrugged his shoulders. “What do you know about that?” said he.

“But, nevertheless, it appears to me⁠—”

“M. de Baisemeaux,” said Aramis, turning round in his chair, “here is your servant, who wishes to speak with you”; and at this moment, de Baisemeaux’s servant appeared at the threshold of the door.

“What is it?” asked Baisemeaux, sharply.

“Monsieur,” said the man, “they are bringing you the doctor’s return.”

Aramis looked at de Baisemeaux with a calm and confident eye.

“Well,” said he, “let the messenger enter.”

The messenger entered, saluted, and handed in the report. Baisemeaux ran his eye over it, and raising his head, said in surprise, “No. 12 is ill!”

“How was it, then,” said Aramis, carelessly, “that you told me everybody was well in your hotel, M. de Baisemeaux?” And he emptied his glass without removing his eyes from Baisemeaux.

The governor then made a sign to the messenger, and when he had quitted the room, said, still trembling, “I think that there is in the article, ‘on the prisoner’s demand.’ ”

“Yes, it is so,” answered Aramis. “But see what it is they want with you now.”

And that moment a sergeant put his head in at the door. “What do you want now?” cried Baisemeaux. “Can you not leave me in peace for ten minutes?”

“Monsieur,” said the sergeant, “the sick man, No. 12, has commissioned the turnkey to request you to send him a confessor.”

Baisemeaux very nearly sank on the floor; but Aramis disdained to reassure him, just as he had disdained to terrify him. “What must I answer?” inquired Baisemeaux.

“Just what you please,” replied Aramis, compressing his lips; “that is your business. I am not the governor of the Bastille.”

“Tell the prisoner,” cried Baisemeaux, quickly⁠—“tell the prisoner that his request is granted.” The sergeant left the room. “Oh! Monseigneur, Monseigneur,” murmured Baisemeaux, “how could I have suspected!⁠—how could I have foreseen this!”

“Who requested you to suspect, and who besought you to foresee?” contemptuously answered Aramis. “The order suspects; the order knows; the order foresees⁠—is that not enough?”

“What is it you command?” added Baisemeaux.

“I?⁠—nothing at all. I am nothing but a poor priest, a simple confessor. Have I your orders to go and see the sufferer?”

“Oh, Monseigneur, I do not order; I pray you to go.”

“ ’Tis well; conduct me to him.”

CHAPTER 29

The Prisoner
Since Aramis’s singular transformation into a confessor of the order, Baisemeaux was no longer the same man. Up to that period, the place which Aramis had held in the worthy governor’s estimation was that of a prelate whom he respected and a friend to whom he owed a debt of gratitude; but now he felt himself an inferior, and that Aramis was his master. He himself lighted a lantern, summoned a turnkey, and said, returning to Aramis, “I am at your orders, Monseigneur.” Aramis merely nodded his head, as much as to say, “Very good”; and signed to him with his hand to lead the way. Baisemeaux advanced, and Aramis followed him. It was a calm and lovely starlit night; the steps of three men resounded on the flags of the terraces, and the clinking of the keys hanging from the jailer’s girdle made itself heard up to the stories of the towers, as if to remind the prisoners that the liberty of earth was a luxury beyond their reach. It might have been said that the alteration effected in Baisemeaux extended even to the prisoners. The turnkey, the same who on Aramis’s first arrival had shown himself so inquisitive and curious, was now not only silent, but impassible. He held his head down, and seemed afraid to keep his ears open. In this wise they reached the basement of the Bertaudière, the two first stories of which were mounted silently and somewhat slowly; for Baisemeaux, though far from disobeying, was far from exhibiting any eagerness to obey. On arriving at the door, Baisemeaux showed a disposition to enter the prisoner’s chamber; but Aramis, stopping him on the threshold, said, “The rules do not allow the governor to hear the prisoner’s confession.”

Baisemeaux bowed, and made way for Aramis, who took the lantern and entered; and then signed to them to close the door behind him. For an instant he remained standing, listening whether Baisemeaux and the turnkey had retired; but as soon as he was assured by the sound of their descending footsteps that they had left the tower, he put the lantern on the table and gazed around. On a bed of green serge, similar in all respects to the other beds in the Bastille, save that it was newer, and under curtains half-drawn, reposed a young man, to whom we have already once before introduced Aramis. According to custom, the prisoner was without a light. At the hour of curfew, he was bound to extinguish his lamp, and we perceive how much he was favored, in being allowed to keep it burning even till then. Near the bed a large leathern armchair, with twisted legs, sustained his clothes. A little table⁠—without pens, books, paper, or ink⁠—stood neglected in sadness near the window; while several plates, still unemptied, showed that the prisoner had scarcely touched his evening meal. Aramis saw that the young man was stretched upon his bed, his face half concealed by his arms. The arrival of a visitor did not cause any change of position; either he was waiting in expectation, or was asleep. Aramis lighted the candle from the lantern, pushed back the armchair, and approached the bed with an evident mixture of interest and respect. The young man raised his head. “What is it?” said he.

“You desired a confessor?” replied Aramis.

“Yes.”

“Because you were ill?”

“Yes.”

“Very ill?”

The young man gave Aramis a piercing glance, and answered, “I thank you.” After a moment’s silence, “I have seen you before,” he continued. Aramis bowed.

Doubtless the scrutiny the prisoner had just made of the cold, crafty, and imperious character stamped upon the features of the bishop of Vannes was little reassuring to one in his situation, for he added, “I am better.”

“And so?” said Aramis.

“Why, then⁠—being better, I have no longer the same need of a confessor, I think.”

“Not even of the haircloth, which the note you found in your bread informed you of?”

The young man started; but before he had either assented or denied, Aramis continued, “Not even of the ecclesiastic from whom you were to hear an important revelation?”

“If it be so,” said the young man, sinking again on his pillow, “it is different; I am listening.”

Aramis then looked at him more closely, and was struck with the easy majesty of his mien, one which can never be acquired unless Heaven has implanted it in the blood or heart. “Sit down, Monsieur,” said the prisoner.

Aramis bowed and obeyed. “How does the Bastille agree with you?” asked the bishop.

“Very well.”

“You do not suffer?”

“No.”

“You have nothing to regret?”

“Nothing.”

“Not even your liberty?”

“What do you call liberty, Monsieur?” asked the prisoner, with the tone of a man who is preparing for a struggle.

“I call liberty, the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of going whithersoever the sinewy limbs of one-and-twenty chance to wish to carry you.”

The young man smiled, whether in resignation or contempt, it was difficult to tell. “Look,” said he, “I have in that Japanese vase two roses gathered yesterday evening in the bud from the governor’s garden; this morning they have blown and spread their vermilion chalice beneath my gaze; with every opening petal they unfold the treasures of their perfumes, filling my chamber with a fragrance that embalms it. Look now on these two roses; even among roses these are beautiful, and the rose is the most beautiful of flowers. Why, then, do you bid me desire other flowers when I possess the loveliest of all?”

Aramis gazed at the young man in surprise.

“If flowers constitute liberty,” sadly resumed the captive, “I am free, for I possess them.”

“But the air!” cried Aramis; “air is so necessary to life!”

“Well, Monsieur,” returned the prisoner; “draw near to the window; it is open. Between high heaven and earth the wind whirls on its waftages of hail and lightning, exhales its torrid mist or breathes in gentle breezes. It caresses my face. When mounted on the back of this armchair, with my arm around the bars of the window to sustain myself, I fancy I am swimming the wide expanse before me.” The countenance of Aramis darkened as the young man continued: “Light I have! what is better than light? I have the sun, a friend who comes to visit me every day without the permission of the governor or the jailer’s company. He comes in at the window, and traces in my room a square the shape of the window, which lights up the hangings of my bed and floods the very floor. This luminous square increases from ten o’clock till midday, and decreases from one till three slowly, as if, having hastened to my presence, it sorrowed at bidding me farewell. When its last ray disappears I have enjoyed its presence for four hours. Is not that sufficient? I have been told that there are unhappy beings who dig in quarries, and laborers who toil in mines, who never behold it at all.” Aramis wiped the drops from his brow. “As to the stars which are so delightful to view,” continued the young man, “they all resemble each other save in size and brilliancy. I am a favored mortal, for if you had not lighted that candle you would have been able to see the beautiful stars which I was gazing at from my couch before your arrival, whose silvery rays were stealing through my brain.”

Aramis lowered his head; he felt himself overwhelmed with the bitter flow of that sinister philosophy which is the religion of the captive.

“So much, then, for the flowers, the air, the daylight, and the stars,” tranquilly continued the young man; “there remains but exercise. Do I not walk all day in the governor’s garden if it is fine⁠—here if it rains? in the fresh air if it is warm; in perfect warmth, thanks to my winter stove, if it be cold? Ah! Monsieur, do you fancy,” continued the prisoner, not without bitterness, “that men have not done everything for me that a man can hope for or desire?”

“Men!” said Aramis; “be it so; but it seems to me you are forgetting Heaven.”

“Indeed I have forgotten Heaven,” murmured the prisoner, with emotion; “but why do you mention it? Of what use is it to talk to a prisoner of Heaven?”

Aramis looked steadily at this singular youth, who possessed the resignation of a martyr with the smile of an atheist. “Is not Heaven in everything?” he murmured in a reproachful tone.

“Say rather, at the end of everything,” answered the prisoner, firmly.

“Be it so,” said Aramis; “but let us return to our starting-point.”

“I ask nothing better,” returned the young man.

“I am your confessor.”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, you ought, as a penitent, to tell me the truth.”

“My whole desire is to tell it you.”

“Every prisoner has committed some crime for which he has been imprisoned. What crime, then, have you committed?”

“You asked me the same question the first time you saw me,” returned the prisoner.

“And then, as now, you evaded giving me an answer.”

“And what reason have you for thinking that I shall now reply to you?”

“Because this time I am your confessor.”

“Then if you wish me to tell what crime I have committed, explain to me in what a crime consists. For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.”

“We are often criminals in the sight of the great of the earth, not alone for having ourselves committed crimes, but because we know that crimes have been committed.”

The prisoner manifested the deepest attention.

“Yes, I understand you,” he said, after a pause; “yes, you are right, Monsieur; it is very possible that, in such a light, I am a criminal in the eyes of the great of the earth.”

“Ah! then you know something,” said Aramis, who thought he had pierced not merely through a defect in the harness, but through the joints of it.

“No, I am not aware of anything,” replied the young man; “but sometimes I think⁠—and I say to myself⁠—”

“What do you say to yourself?”

“That if I were to think but a little more deeply I should either go mad or I should divine a great deal.”

“And then⁠—and then?” said Aramis, impatiently.

“Then I leave off.”

“You leave off?”

“Yes; my head becomes confused and my ideas melancholy; I feel ennui overtaking me; I wish⁠—”

“What?”

“I don’t know; but I do not like to give myself up to longing for things which I do not possess, when I am so happy with what I have.”

“You are afraid of death?” said Aramis, with a slight uneasiness.

“Yes,” said the young man, smiling.

Aramis felt the chill of that smile, and shuddered. “Oh, as you fear death, you know more about matters than you say,” he cried.

“And you,” returned the prisoner, “who bade me to ask to see you; you, who, when I did ask to see you, came here promising a world of confidence; how is it that, nevertheless, it is you who are silent, leaving it for me to speak? Since, then, we both wear masks, either let us both retain them or put them aside together.”

Aramis felt the force and justice of the remark, saying to himself, This is no ordinary man; I must be cautious.⁠—“Are you ambitious?” said he suddenly to the prisoner, aloud, without preparing him for the alteration.

“What do you mean by ambitious?” replied the youth.

“Ambition,” replied Aramis, “is the feeling which prompts a man to desire more⁠—much more⁠—than he possesses.”

“I said that I was contented, Monsieur; but, perhaps, I deceive myself. I am ignorant of the nature of ambition; but it is not impossible I may have some. Tell me your mind; that is all I ask.”

“An ambitious man,” said Aramis, “is one who covets that which is beyond his station.”

“I covet nothing beyond my station,” said the young man, with an assurance of manner which for the second time made the bishop of Vannes tremble.

He was silent. But to look at the kindling eye, the knitted brow, and the reflective attitude of the captive, it was evident that he expected something more than silence⁠—a silence which Aramis now broke. “You lied the first time I saw you,” said he.

“Lied!” cried the young man, starting up on his couch, with such a tone in his voice, and such a lightning in his eyes, that Aramis recoiled, in spite of himself.

“I should say,” returned Aramis, bowing, “you concealed from me what you knew of your infancy.”

“A man’s secrets are his own, Monsieur,” retorted the prisoner, “and not at the mercy of the first chance-comer.”

“True,” said Aramis, bowing still lower than before, “ ’tis true; pardon me, but today do I still occupy the place of a chance-comer? I beseech you to reply, Monseigneur.”

This title slightly disturbed the prisoner; but nevertheless he did not appear astonished that it was given him. “I do not know you, Monsieur,” said he.

“Oh, if I but dared, I would take your hand and kiss it!”

The young man seemed as if he were going to give Aramis his hand; but the light which beamed in his eyes faded away, and he coldly and distrustfully withdrew his hand again. “Kiss the hand of a prisoner,” he said, shaking his head, “to what purpose?”

“Why did you tell me,” said Aramis, “that you were happy here? Why, that you aspired to nothing? Why, in a word, by thus speaking, do you prevent me from being frank in my turn?”

The same light shone a third time in the young man’s eyes, but died ineffectually away as before.

“You distrust me,” said Aramis.

“And why say you so, Monsieur?”

“Oh, for a very simple reason; if you know what you ought to know, you ought to mistrust everybody.”

“Then do not be astonished that I am mistrustful, since you suspect me of knowing what I do not know.”

Aramis was struck with admiration at this energetic resistance. “Oh, Monseigneur! you drive me to despair,” said he, striking the armchair with his fist.

“And, on my part, I do not comprehend you, Monsieur.”

“Well, then, try to understand me.” The prisoner looked fixedly at Aramis.

“Sometimes it seems to me,” said the latter, “that I have before me the man whom I seek, and then⁠—”

“And then your man disappears⁠—is it not so?” said the prisoner, smiling. “So much the better.”

Aramis rose. “Certainly,” said he; “I have nothing further to say to a man who mistrusts me as you do.”

“And I, Monsieur,” said the prisoner, in the same tone, “have nothing to say to a man who will not understand that a prisoner ought to be mistrustful of everybody.”

“Even of his old friends,” said Aramis. “Oh, Monseigneur, you are too prudent!”

“Of my old friends?⁠—you one of my old friends⁠—you?”

“Do you no longer remember,” said Aramis, “that you once saw, in the village where your early years were spent⁠—”

“Do you know the name of the village?” asked the prisoner.

“Noisy-le-Sec, Monseigneur,” answered Aramis, firmly.

“Go on,” said the young man, with an immovable aspect.

“Stay, Monseigneur,” said Aramis; “if you are positively resolved to carry on this game, let us break off. I am here to tell you many things, ’tis true; but you must allow me to see that, on your side, you have a desire to know them. Before revealing the important matters I still withhold, be assured I am in need of some encouragement, if not candor; a little sympathy, if not confidence. But you keep yourself entrenched in a pretended which paralyzes me. Oh, not for the reason you think; for, ignorant as you may be, or indifferent as you feign to be, you are none the less what you are, Monseigneur, and there is nothing⁠—nothing, mark me! which can cause you not to be so.”

“I promise you,” replied the prisoner, “to hear you without impatience. Only it appears to me that I have a right to repeat the question I have already asked, ‘Who are you?’ ”

“Do you remember, fifteen or eighteen years ago, seeing at Noisy-le-Sec a cavalier, accompanied by a lady in black silk, with flame-colored ribbons in her hair?”

“Yes,” said the young man; “I once asked the name of this cavalier, and they told me that he called himself the Abbé d’Herblay. I was astonished that the abbé had so warlike an air, and they replied that there was nothing singular in that, seeing that he was one of Louis XIII’s Musketeers.”

“Well,” said Aramis, “that musketeer and abbé, afterwards bishop of Vannes, is your confessor now.”

“I know it; I recognized you.”

“Then, Monseigneur, if you know that, I must further add a fact of which you are ignorant⁠—that if the king were to know this evening of the presence of this musketeer, this abbé, this bishop, this confessor, here⁠—he, who has risked everything to visit you, tomorrow would behold the steely glitter of the executioner’s axe in a dungeon more gloomy, more obscure than yours.”

While listening to these words, delivered with emphasis, the young man had raised himself on his couch, and was now gazing more and more eagerly at Aramis.

The result of his scrutiny was that he appeared to derive some confidence from it. “Yes,” he murmured, “I remember perfectly. The woman of whom you speak came once with you, and twice afterwards with another.” He hesitated.

“With another, who came to see you every month⁠—is it not so, Monseigneur?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know who this lady was?”

The light seemed ready to flash from the prisoner’s eyes. “I am aware that she was one of the ladies of the court,” he said.

“You remember that lady well, do you not?”

“Oh, my recollection can hardly be very confused on this head,” said the young prisoner. “I saw that lady once with a gentleman about forty-five years old. I saw her once with you, and with the lady dressed in black. I have seen her twice since with the same person. These four people, with my master, and old Péronne, my jailer, and the governor of the prison, are the only persons with whom I have ever spoken, and, indeed, almost the only persons I have ever seen.”

“Then you were in prison?”

“If I am a prisoner here, then I was comparatively free, although in a very narrow sense⁠—a house I never quitted, a garden surrounded with walls I could not climb, these constituted my residence, but you know it, as you have been there. In a word, being accustomed to live within these bounds, I never cared to leave them. And so you will understand, Monsieur, that having never seen anything of the world, I have nothing left to care for; and therefore, if you relate anything, you will be obliged to explain each item to me as you go along.”

“And I will do so,” said Aramis, bowing; “for it is my duty, Monseigneur.”

“Well, then, begin by telling me who was my tutor.”

“A worthy and, above all, an honorable gentleman, Monseigneur; fit guide for both body and soul. Had you ever any reason to complain of him?”

“Oh, no; quite the contrary. But this gentleman of yours often used to tell me that my father and mother were dead. Did he deceive me, or did he speak the truth?”

“He was compelled to comply with the orders given him.”

“Then he lied?”

“In one respect. Your father is dead.”

“And my mother?”

“She is dead for you.”

“But then she lives for others, does she not?”

“Yes.”

“And I⁠—and I, then” (the young man looked sharply at Aramis) “am compelled to live in the obscurity of a prison?”

“Alas! I fear so.”

“And that because my presence in the world would lead to the revelation of a great secret?”

“Certainly, a very great secret.”

“My enemy must indeed be powerful, to be able to shut up in the Bastille a child such as I then was.”

“He is.”

“More powerful than my mother, then?”

“And why do you ask that?”

“Because my mother would have taken my part.”

Aramis hesitated. “Yes, Monseigneur; more powerful than your mother.”

“Seeing, then, that my nurse and preceptor were carried off, and that I, also, was separated from them⁠—either they were, or I am, very dangerous to my enemy?”

“Yes; but you are alluding to a peril from which he freed himself, by causing the nurse and preceptor to disappear,” answered Aramis, quietly.

“Disappear!” cried the prisoner, “how did they disappear?”

“In a very sure way,” answered Aramis⁠—“they are dead.”

The young man turned pale, and passed his hand tremblingly over his face. “Poison?” he asked.

“Poison.”

The prisoner reflected a moment. “My enemy must indeed have been very cruel, or hard beset by necessity, to assassinate those two innocent people, my sole support; for the worthy gentleman and the poor nurse had never harmed a living being.”

“In your family, Monseigneur, necessity is stern. And so it is necessity which compels me, to my great regret, to tell you that this gentleman and the unhappy lady have been assassinated.”

“Oh, you tell me nothing I am not aware of,” said the prisoner, knitting his brows.

“How?”

“I suspected it.”

“Why?”

“I will tell you.”

At this moment the young man, supporting himself on his two elbows, drew close to Aramis’s face, with such an expression of dignity, of self-command and of defiance even, that the bishop felt the electricity of enthusiasm strike in devouring flashes from that great heart of his, into his brain of adamant.

“Speak, Monseigneur. I have already told you that by conversing with you I endanger my life. Little value as it has, I implore you to accept it as the ransom of your own.”

“Well,” resumed the young man, “this is why I suspected they had killed my nurse and my preceptor⁠—”

“Whom you used to call your father.”

“Yes; whom I called my father, but whose son I well knew I was not.”

“Who caused you to suppose so?”

“Just as you, Monsieur, are too respectful for a friend, he was also too respectful for a father.”

“I, however,” said Aramis, “have no intention to disguise myself.”

The young man nodded assent and continued: “Undoubtedly, I was not destined to perpetual seclusion,” said the prisoner; “and that which makes me believe so, above all, now, is the care that was taken to render me as accomplished a cavalier as possible. The gentleman attached to my person taught me everything he knew himself⁠—mathematics, a little geometry, astronomy, fencing and riding. Every morning I went through military exercises, and practiced on horseback. Well, one morning during the summer, it being very hot, I went to sleep in the hall. Nothing, up to that period, except the respect paid me, had enlightened me, or even roused my suspicions. I lived as children, as birds, as plants, as the air and the sun do. I had just turned my fifteenth year⁠—”

“This, then, is eight years ago?”

“Yes, nearly; but I have ceased to reckon time.”

“Excuse me; but what did your tutor tell you, to encourage you to work?”

“He used to say that a man was bound to make for himself, in the world, that fortune which Heaven had refused him at his birth. He added that, being a poor, obscure orphan, I had no one but myself to look to; and that nobody either did, or ever would, take any interest in me. I was, then, in the hall I have spoken of, asleep from fatigue with long fencing. My preceptor was in his room on the first floor, just over me. Suddenly I heard him exclaim, and then he called: ‘Péronne! Péronne!’ It was my nurse whom he called.”

“Yes, I know it,” said Aramis. “Continue, Monseigneur.”

“Very likely she was in the garden; for my preceptor came hastily downstairs. I rose, anxious at seeing him anxious. He opened the garden-door, still crying out, ‘Péronne! Péronne!’ The windows of the hall looked into the court; the shutters were closed; but through a chink in them I saw my tutor draw near a large well, which was almost directly under the windows of his study. He stooped over the brim, looked into the well, and again cried out, and made wild and affrighted gestures. Where I was, I could not only see, but hear⁠—and see and hear I did.”

“Go on, I pray you,” said Aramis.

“Dame Péronne came running up, hearing the governor’s cries. He went to meet her, took her by the arm, and drew her quickly towards the edge; after which, as they both bent over it together, ‘Look, look,’ cried he, ‘what a misfortune!’

“ ‘Calm yourself, calm yourself,’ said Péronne; ‘what is the matter?’

“ ‘The letter!’ he exclaimed; ‘do you see that letter?’ pointing to the bottom of the well.

“ ‘What letter?’ she cried.

“ ‘The letter you see down there; the last letter from the queen.’

“At this word I trembled. My tutor⁠—he who passed for my father, he who was continually recommending me modesty and humility⁠—in correspondence with the queen!

“ ‘The queen’s last letter!’ cried Péronne, without showing more astonishment than at seeing this letter at the bottom of the well; ‘but how came it there?’

“ ‘A chance, Dame Péronne⁠—a singular chance. I was entering my room, and on opening the door, the window, too, being open, a puff of air came suddenly and carried off this paper⁠—this letter of Her Majesty’s; I darted after it, and gained the window just in time to see it flutter a moment in the breeze and disappear down the well.’

“ ‘Well,’ said Dame Péronne; ‘and if the letter has fallen into the well, ’tis all the same as if it was burnt; and as the queen burns all her letters every time she comes⁠—’

“And so you see this lady who came every month was the queen,” said the prisoner.

“ ‘Doubtless, doubtless,’ continued the old gentleman; ‘but this letter contained instructions⁠—how can I follow them?’

“ ‘Write immediately to her; give her a plain account of the accident, and the queen will no doubt write you another letter in place of this.’

“ ‘Oh! the queen would never believe the story,’ said the good gentleman, shaking his head; ‘she will imagine that I want to keep this letter instead of giving it up like the rest, so as to have a hold over her. She is so distrustful, and M. de Mazarin so⁠—Yon devil of an Italian is capable of having us poisoned at the first breath of suspicion.’ ”

Aramis almost imperceptibly smiled.

“ ‘You know, Dame Péronne, they are both so suspicious in all that concerns Philippe.’

“Philippe was the name they gave me,” said the prisoner.

“ ‘Well, ’tis no use hesitating,’ said Dame Péronne, ‘somebody must go down the well.’

“ ‘Of course; so that the person who goes down may read the paper as he is coming up.’

“ ‘But let us choose some villager who cannot read, and then you will be at ease.’

“ ‘Granted; but will not anyone who descends guess that a paper must be important for which we risk a man’s life? However, you have given me an idea, Dame Péronne; somebody shall go down the well, but that somebody shall be myself.’

“But at this notion Dame Péronne lamented and cried in such a manner, and so implored the old nobleman, with tears in her eyes, that he promised her to obtain a ladder long enough to reach down, while she went in search of some stouthearted youth, whom she was to persuade that a jewel had fallen into the well, and that this jewel was wrapped in a paper. ‘And as paper,’ remarked my preceptor, ‘naturally unfolds in water, the young man would not be surprised at finding nothing, after all, but the letter wide open.’

“ ‘But perhaps the writing will be already effaced by that time,’ said Dame Péronne.

“ ‘No consequence, provided we secure the letter. On returning it to the queen, she will see at once that we have not betrayed her; and consequently, as we shall not rouse the distrust of Mazarin, we shall have nothing to fear from him.’

“Having come to this resolution, they parted. I pushed back the shutter, and, seeing that my tutor was about to re-enter, I threw myself on my couch, in a confusion of brain caused by all I had just heard. My governor opened the door a few moments after, and thinking I was asleep gently closed it again. As soon as ever it was shut, I rose, and, listening, heard the sound of retiring footsteps. Then I returned to the shutters, and saw my tutor and Dame Péronne go out together. I was alone in the house. They had hardly closed the gate before I sprang from the window and ran to the well. Then, just as my governor had leaned over, so leaned I. Something white and luminous glistened in the green and quivering silence of the water. The brilliant disk fascinated and allured me; my eyes became fixed, and I could hardly breathe. The well seemed to draw me downwards with its slimy mouth and icy breath; and I thought I read, at the bottom of the water, characters of fire traced upon the letter the queen had touched. Then, scarcely knowing what I was about, and urged on by one of those instinctive impulses which drive men to destruction, I lowered the cord from the windlass of the well to within about three feet of the water, leaving the bucket dangling, at the same time taking infinite pains not to disturb that coveted letter, which was beginning to change its white tint for the hue of chrysoprase⁠—proof enough that it was sinking⁠—and then, with the rope weltering in my hands, slid down into the abyss. When I saw myself hanging over the dark pool, when I saw the sky lessening above my head, a cold shudder came over me, a chill fear got the better of me, I was seized with giddiness, and the hair rose on my head; but my strong will still reigned supreme over all the terror and disquietude. I gained the water, and at once plunged into it, holding on by one hand, while I immersed the other and seized the dear letter, which, alas! came in two in my grasp. I concealed the two fragments in my body-coat, and, helping myself with my feet against the sides of the pit, and clinging on with my hands, agile and vigorous as I was, and, above all, pressed for time, I regained the brink, drenching it as I touched it with the water that streamed off me. I was no sooner out of the well with my prize, than I rushed into the sunlight, and took refuge in a kind of shrubbery at the bottom of the garden. As I entered my hiding-place, the bell which resounded when the great gate was opened, rang. It was my preceptor come back again. I had but just time. I calculated that it would take ten minutes before he would gain my place of concealment, even if, guessing where I was, he came straight to it; and twenty if he were obliged to look for me. But this was time enough to allow me to read the cherished letter, whose fragments I hastened to unite again. The writing was already fading, but I managed to decipher it all.

“And will you tell me what you read therein, Monseigneur?” asked Aramis, deeply interested.

“Quite enough, Monsieur, to see that my tutor was a man of noble rank, and that Péronne, without being a lady of quality, was far better than a servant; and also to perceived that I must myself be highborn, since the queen, Anne of Austria, and Mazarin, the prime minister, commended me so earnestly to their care.” Here the young man paused, quite overcome.

“And what happened?” asked Aramis.

“It happened, Monsieur,” answered he, “that the workmen they had summoned found nothing in the well, after the closest search; that my governor perceived that the brink was all watery; that I was not so dried by the sun as to prevent Dame Péronne spying that my garments were moist; and, lastly, that I was seized with a violent fever, owing to the chill and the excitement of my discovery, an attack of delirium supervening, during which I related the whole adventure; so that, guided by my avowal, my governor found the pieces of the queen’s letter inside the bolster where I had concealed them.”

“Ah!” said Aramis, “now I understand.”

“Beyond this, all is conjecture. Doubtless the unfortunate lady and gentleman, not daring to keep the occurrence secret, wrote of all this to the queen and sent back the torn letter.”

“After which,” said Aramis, “you were arrested and removed to the Bastille.”

“As you see.”

“Your two attendants disappeared?”

“Alas!”

“Let us not take up our time with the dead, but see what can be done with the living. You told me you were resigned.”

“I repeat it.”

“Without any desire for freedom?”

“As I told you.”

“Without ambition, sorrow, or thought?”

The young man made no answer.

“Well,” asked Aramis, “why are you silent?”

“I think I have spoken enough,” answered the prisoner, “and that now it is your turn. I am weary.”

Aramis gathered himself up, and a shade of deep solemnity spread itself over his countenance. It was evident that he had reached the crisis in the part he had come to the prison to play. “One question,” said Aramis.

“What is it? speak.”

“In the house you inhabited there were neither looking-glasses nor mirrors?”

“What are those two words, and what is their meaning?” asked the young man; “I have no sort of knowledge of them.”

“They designate two pieces of furniture which reflect objects; so that, for instance, you may see in them your own lineaments, as you see mine now, with the naked eye.”

“No; there was neither a glass nor a mirror in the house,” answered the young man.

Aramis looked round him. “Nor is there anything of the kind here, either,” he said; “they have again taken the same precaution.”

“To what end?”

“You will know directly. Now, you have told me that you were instructed in mathematics, astronomy, fencing, and riding; but you have not said a word about history.”

“My tutor sometimes related to me the principal deeds of the King St. Louis, King Francis I, and King Henry IV.”

“Is that all?”

“Very nearly.”

“This also was done by design, then; just as they deprived you of mirrors, which reflect the present, so they left you in ignorance of history, which reflects the past. Since your imprisonment, books have been forbidden you; so that you are unacquainted with a number of facts, by means of which you would be able to reconstruct the shattered mansion of your recollections and your hopes.”

“It is true,” said the young man.

“Listen, then; I will in a few words tell you what has passed in France during the last twenty-three or twenty-four years; that is, from the probable date of your birth; in a word, from the time that interests you.”

“Say on.” And the young man resumed his serious and attentive attitude.

“Do you know who was the son of Henry IV?”

“At least I know who his successor was.”

“How?”

“By means of a coin dated 1610, which bears the effigy of Henry IV; and another of 1612, bearing that of Louis XIII. So I presumed that, there being only two years between the two dates, Louis was Henry’s successor.”

“Then,” said Aramis, “you know that the last reigning monarch was Louis XIII?”

“I do,” answered the youth, slightly reddening.

“Well, he was a prince full of noble ideas and great projects, always, alas! deferred by the trouble of the times and the dread struggle that his minister Richelieu had to maintain against the great nobles of France. The king himself was of a feeble character, and died young and unhappy.”

“I know it.”

“He had been long anxious about having an heir; a care which weighs heavily on princes, who desire to leave behind them more than one pledge that their best thoughts and works will be continued.”

“Did the king, then, die childless?” asked the prisoner, smiling.

“No, but he was long without one, and for a long while thought he should be the last of his race. This idea had reduced him to the depths of despair, when suddenly, his wife, Anne of Austria⁠—”

The prisoner trembled.

“Did you know,” said Aramis, “that Louis XIII’s wife was called Anne of Austria?”

“Continue,” said the young man, without replying to the question.

“When suddenly,” resumed Aramis, “the queen announced an interesting event. There was great joy at the intelligence, and all prayed for her happy delivery. On the 5th of September, 1638, she gave birth to a son.”

Here Aramis looked at his companion, and thought he observed him turning pale. “You are about to hear,” said Aramis, “an account which few indeed could now avouch; for it refers to a secret which they imagined buried with the dead, entombed in the abyss of the confessional.”

“And you will tell me this secret?” broke in the youth.

“Oh!” said Aramis, with unmistakable emphasis, “I do not know that I ought to risk this secret by entrusting it to one who has no desire to quit the Bastille.”

“I hear you, Monsieur.”

“The queen, then, gave birth to a son. But while the court was rejoicing over the event, when the king had shown the newborn child to the nobility and people, and was sitting gayly down to table, to celebrate the event, the queen, who was alone in her room, was again taken ill and gave birth to a second son.”

“Oh!” said the prisoner, betraying a better acquaintance with affairs than he had owned to, “I thought that Monsieur was only born in⁠—”

Aramis raised his finger; “Permit me to continue,” he said.

The prisoner sighed impatiently, and paused.

“Yes,” said Aramis, “the queen had a second son, whom Dame Péronne, the midwife, received in her arms.”

“Dame Péronne!” murmured the young man.

“They ran at once to the banqueting-room, and whispered to the king what had happened; he rose and quitted the table. But this time it was no longer happiness that his face expressed, but something akin to terror. The birth of twins changed into bitterness the joy to which that of an only son had given rise, seeing that in France (a fact you are assuredly ignorant of) it is the oldest of the king’s sons who succeeds his father.”

“I know it.”

“And that the doctors and jurists assert that there is ground for doubting whether the son that first makes his appearance is the elder by the law of heaven and of nature.”

The prisoner uttered a smothered cry, and became whiter than the coverlet under which he hid himself.

“Now you understand,” pursued Aramis, “that the king, who with so much pleasure saw himself repeated in one, was in despair about two; fearing that the second might dispute the first’s claim to seniority, which had been recognized only two hours before; and so this second son, relying on party interests and caprices, might one day sow discord and engender civil war throughout the kingdom; by these means destroying the very dynasty he should have strengthened.”

“Oh, I understand!⁠—I understand!” murmured the young man.

“Well,” continued Aramis; “this is what they relate, what they declare; this is why one of the queen’s two sons, shamefully parted from his brother, shamefully sequestered, is buried in profound obscurity; this is why that second son has disappeared, and so completely, that not a soul in France, save his mother, is aware of his existence.”

“Yes! his mother, who has cast him off,” cried the prisoner in a tone of despair.

“Except, also,” Aramis went on, “the lady in the black dress; and, finally, excepting⁠—”

“Excepting yourself⁠—is it not? You who come and relate all this; you, who rouse in my soul curiosity, hatred, ambition, and, perhaps, even the thirst of vengeance; except you, Monsieur, who, if you are the man to whom I expect, whom the note I have received applies to, whom, in short, Heaven ought to send me, must possess about you⁠—”

“What?” asked Aramis.

“A portrait of the king, Louis XIV, who at this moment reigns upon the throne of France.”

“Here is the portrait,” replied the bishop, handing the prisoner a miniature in enamel, on which Louis was depicted lifelike, with a handsome, lofty mien. The prisoner eagerly seized the portrait, and gazed at it with devouring eyes.

“And now, Monseigneur,” said Aramis, “here is a mirror.” Aramis left the prisoner time to recover his ideas.

“So high!⁠—so high!” murmured the young man, eagerly comparing the likeness of Louis with his own countenance reflected in the glass.

“What do you think of it?” at length said Aramis.

“I think that I am lost,” replied the captive; “the king will never set me free.”

“And I⁠—I demand to know,” added the bishop, fixing his piercing eyes significantly upon the prisoner, “I demand to know which of these two is king; the one this miniature portrays, or whom the glass reflects?”

“The king, Monsieur,” sadly replied the young man, “is he who is on the throne, who is not in prison; and who, on the other hand, can cause others to be entombed there. Royalty means power; and you behold how powerless I am.”

“Monseigneur,” answered Aramis, with a respect he had not yet manifested, “the king, mark me, will, if you desire it, be the one that, quitting his dungeon, shall maintain himself upon the throne, on which his friends will place him.”

“Tempt me not, Monsieur,” broke in the prisoner bitterly.

“Be not weak, Monseigneur,” persisted Aramis; “I have brought you all the proofs of your birth; consult them; satisfy yourself that you are a king’s son; it is for us to act.”

“No, no; it is impossible.”

“Unless, indeed,” resumed the bishop ironically, “it be the destiny of your race, that the brothers excluded from the throne should be always princes void of courage and honesty, as was your uncle, M. Gaston d’Orléans, who ten times conspired against his brother Louis XIII.”

“What!” cried the prince, astonished; “my uncle Gaston ‘conspired against his brother’; conspired to dethrone him?”

“Exactly, Monseigneur; for no other reason. I tell you the truth.”

“And he had friends⁠—devoted friends?”

“As much so as I am to you.”

“And, after all, what did he do?⁠—Failed!”

“He failed, I admit; but always through his own fault; and, for the sake of purchasing⁠—not his life⁠—for the life of the king’s brother is sacred and inviolable⁠—but his liberty, he sacrificed the lives of all his friends, one after another. And so, at this day, he is a very blot on history, the detestation of a hundred noble families in this kingdom.”

“I understand, Monsieur; either by weakness or treachery, my uncle slew his friends.”

“By weakness; which, in princes, is always treachery.”

“And cannot a man fail, then, from incapacity and ignorance? Do you really believe it possible that a poor captive such as I, brought up, not only at a distance from the court, but even from the world⁠—do you believe it possible that such a one could assist those of his friends who should attempt to serve him?” And as Aramis was about to reply, the young man suddenly cried out, with a violence which betrayed the temper of his blood, “We are speaking of friends; but how can I have any friends⁠—I, whom no one knows; and have neither liberty, money, nor influence, to gain any?”

“I fancy I had the honor to offer myself to Your Royal Highness.”

“Oh, do not style me so, Monsieur; ’tis either treachery or cruelty. Bid me not think of aught beyond these prison-walls, which so grimly confine me; let me again love, or, at least, submit to my slavery and my obscurity.”

“Monseigneur, Monseigneur; if you again utter these desperate words⁠—if, after having received proof of your high birth, you still remain poor-spirited in body and soul, I will comply with your desire, I will depart, and renounce forever the service of a master, to whom so eagerly I came to devote my assistance and my life!”

“Monsieur,” cried the prince, “would it not have been better for you to have reflected, before telling me all that you have done, that you have broken my heart forever?”

“And so I desire to do, Monseigneur.”

“To talk to me about power, grandeur, aye, and to prate of thrones! Is a prison the fit place? You wish to make me believe in splendor, and we are lying lost in night; you boast of glory, and we are smothering our words in the curtains of this miserable bed; you give me glimpses of power absolute whilst I hear the footsteps of the every-watchful jailer in the corridor⁠—that step which, after all, makes you tremble more than it does me. To render me somewhat less incredulous, free me from the Bastille; let me breathe the fresh air; give me my spurs and trusty sword, then we shall begin to understand each other.”

“It is precisely my intention to give you all this, Monseigneur, and more; only, do you desire it?”

“A word more,” said the prince. “I know there are guards in every gallery, bolts to every door, cannon and soldiery at every barrier. How will you overcome the sentries⁠—spike the guns? How will you break through the bolts and bars?”

“Monseigneur⁠—how did you get the note which announced my arrival to you?”

“You can bribe a jailer for such a thing as a note.”

“If we can corrupt one turnkey, we can corrupt ten.”

“Well; I admit that it may be possible to release a poor captive from the Bastille; possible so to conceal him that the king’s people shall not again ensnare him; possible, in some unknown retreat, to sustain the unhappy wretch in some suitable manner.”

“Monseigneur!” said Aramis, smiling.

“I admit that, whoever would do this much for me, would seem more than mortal in my eyes; but as you tell me I am a prince, brother of the king, how can you restore me the rank and power which my mother and my brother have deprived me of? And as, to effect this, I must pass a life of war and hatred, how can you cause me to prevail in those combats⁠—render me invulnerable by my enemies? Ah! Monsieur, reflect on all this; place me, tomorrow, in some dark cavern at a mountain’s base; yield me the delight of hearing in freedom sounds of river, plain and valley, of beholding in freedom the sun of the blue heavens, or the stormy sky, and it is enough. Promise me no more than this, for, indeed, more you cannot give, and it would be a crime to deceive me, since you call yourself my friend.”

Aramis waited in silence. “Monseigneur,” he resumed, after a moment’s reflection, “I admire the firm, sound sense which dictates your words; I am happy to have discovered my monarch’s mind.”

“Again, again! oh, God! for mercy’s sake,” cried the prince, pressing his icy hands upon his clammy brow, “do not play with me! I have no need to be a king to be the happiest of men.”

“But I, Monseigneur, wish you to be a king for the good of humanity.”

“Ah!” said the prince, with fresh distrust inspired by the word; “ah! with what, then, has humanity to reproach my brother?”

“I forgot to say, Monseigneur, that if you would allow me to guide you, and if you consent to become the most powerful monarch in Christendom, you will have promoted the interests of all the friends whom I devote to the success of your cause, and these friends are numerous.”

“Numerous?”

“Less numerous than powerful, Monseigneur.”

“Explain yourself.”

“It is impossible; I will explain, I swear before Heaven, on that day that I see you sitting on the throne of France.”

“But my brother?”

“You shall decree his fate. Do you pity him?”

“Him, who leaves me to perish in a dungeon? No, no. For him I have no pity!”

“So much the better.”

“He might have himself come to this prison, have taken me by the hand, and have said, ‘My brother, Heaven created us to love, not to contend with one another. I come to you. A barbarous prejudice has condemned you to pass your days in obscurity, far from mankind, deprived of every joy. I will make you sit down beside me; I will buckle round your waist our father’s sword. Will you take advantage of this reconciliation to put down or restrain me? Will you employ that sword to spill my blood?’ ‘Oh! never,’ I would have replied to him, ‘I look on you as my preserver, I will respect you as my master. You give me far more than Heaven bestowed; for through you I possess liberty and the privilege of loving and being loved in this world.’ ”

“And you would have kept your word, Monseigneur?”

“On my life! While now⁠—now that I have guilty ones to punish⁠—”

“In what manner, Monseigneur?”

“What do you say as to the resemblance that Heaven has given me to my brother?”

“I say that there was in that likeness a providential instruction which the king ought to have heeded; I say that your mother committed a crime in rendering those different in happiness and fortune whom nature created so startlingly alike, of her own flesh, and I conclude that the object of punishment should be only to restore the equilibrium.”

“By which you mean⁠—”

“That if I restore you to your place on your brother’s throne, he shall take yours in prison.”

“Alas! there’s such infinity of suffering in prison, especially it would be so for one who has drunk so deeply of the cup of enjoyment.”

“Your Royal Highness will always be free to act as you may desire; and if it seems good to you, after punishment, you will have it in your power to pardon.”

“Good. And now, are you aware of one thing, Monsieur?”

“Tell me, my prince.”

“It is that I will hear nothing further from you till I am clear of the Bastille.”

“I was going to say to Your Highness that I should only have the pleasure of seeing you once again.”

“And when?”

“The day when my prince leaves these gloomy walls.”

“Heavens! how will you give me notice of it?”

“By myself coming to fetch you.”

“Yourself?”

“My prince, do not leave this chamber save with me, or if in my absence you are compelled to do so, remember that I am not concerned in it.”

“And so I am not to speak a word of this to anyone whatever, save to you?”

“Save only to me.” Aramis bowed very low. The prince offered his hand.

“Monsieur,” he said, in a tone that issued from his heart, “one word more, my last. If you have sought me for my destruction; if you are only a tool in the hands of my enemies; if from our conference, in which you have sounded the depths of my mind, anything worse than captivity result, that is to say, if death befall me, still receive my blessing, for you will have ended my troubles and given me repose from the tormenting fever that has preyed on me for eight long weary years.”

“Monseigneur, wait the result ere you judge me,” said Aramis.

“I say that, in such a case, I bless and forgive you. If, on the other hand, you are come to restore me to that position in the sunshine of fortune and glory to which I was destined by Heaven; if by your means I am enabled to live in the memory of man, and confer luster on my race by deeds of valor, or by solid benefits bestowed upon my people; if, from my present depths of sorrow, aided by your generous hand, I raise myself to the very height of honor, then to you, whom I thank with blessings, to you will I offer half my power and my glory: though you would still be but partly recompensed, and your share must always remain incomplete, since I could not divide with you the happiness received at your hands.”

“Monseigneur,” replied Aramis, moved by the pallor and excitement of the young man, “the nobleness of your heart fills me with joy and admiration. It is not you who will have to thank me, but rather the nation whom you will render happy, the posterity whose name you will make glorious. Yes; I shall indeed have bestowed upon you more than life, I shall have given you immortality.”

The prince offered his hand to Aramis, who sank upon his knee and kissed it.

“It is the first act of homage paid to our future king,” said he. “When I see you again, I shall say, ‘Good day, sire.’ ”

“Till then,” said the young man, pressing his wan and wasted fingers over his heart⁠—“till then, no more dreams, no more strain on my life⁠—my heart would break! Oh, Monsieur, how small is my prison⁠—how low the window⁠—how narrow are the doors! To think that so much pride, splendor, and happiness, should be able to enter in and to remain here!”

“Your Royal Highness makes me proud,” said Aramis, “since you infer it is I who brought all this.” And he rapped immediately on the door. The jailer came to open it with Baisemeaux, who, devoured by fear and uneasiness, was beginning, in spite of himself, to listen at the door. Happily, neither of the speakers had forgotten to smother his voice, even in the most passionate outbreaks.

“What a confessor!” said the governor, forcing a laugh; “who would believe that a compulsory recluse, a man as though in the very jaws of death, could have committed crimes so numerous, and so long to tell of?”

Aramis made no reply. He was eager to leave the Bastille, where the secret which overwhelmed him seemed to double the weight of the walls. As soon as they reached Baisemeaux’s quarters, “Let us proceed to business, my dear governor,” said Aramis.

“Alas!” replied Baisemeaux.

“You have to ask me for my receipt for one hundred and fifty thousand livres,” said the bishop.

“And to pay over the first third of the sum,” added the poor governor, with a sigh, taking three steps towards his iron strongbox.

“Here is the receipt,” said Aramis.

“And here is the money,” returned Baisemeaux, with a threefold sigh.

“The order instructed me only to give a receipt; it said nothing about receiving the money,” rejoined Aramis. “Adieu, Monsieur le Governeur!”

And he departed, leaving Baisemeaux almost more than stifled with joy and surprise at this regal present so liberally bestowed by the confessor extraordinary to the Bastille.

CHAPTER 30

How Mouston Had Become Fatter Without Giving Porthos Notice Thereof, and of the Troubles Which Consequently Befell That Worthy Gentleman
Since the departure of Athos for Blois, Porthos and d’Artagnan were seldom together. One was occupied with harassing duties for the king, the other had been making many purchases of furniture which he intended to forward to his estate, and by aid of which he hoped to establish in his various residences something of the courtly luxury he had witnessed in all its dazzling brightness in His Majesty’s society. D’Artagnan, ever faithful, one morning during an interval of service thought about Porthos, and being uneasy at not having heard anything of him for a fortnight, directed his steps towards his hotel, and pounced upon him just as he was getting up. The worthy baron had a pensive⁠—nay, more than pensive⁠—melancholy air. He was sitting on his bed, only half-dressed, and with legs dangling over the edge, contemplating a host of garments, which with their fringes, lace, embroidery, and slashes of ill-assorted hues, were strewed all over the floor. Porthos, sad and reflective as La Fontaine’s hare, did not observe d’Artagnan’s entrance, which was, moreover, screened at this moment by M. Mouston, whose personal corpulency, quite enough at any time to hide one man from another, was effectually doubled by a scarlet coat which the intendant was holding up for his master’s inspection, by the sleeves, that he might the better see it all over. D’Artagnan stopped at the threshold and looked in at the pensive Porthos and then, as the sight of the innumerable garments strewing the floor caused mighty sighs to heave the bosom of that excellent gentleman, d’Artagnan thought it time to put an end to these dismal reflections, and coughed by way of announcing himself.

“Ah!” exclaimed Porthos, whose countenance brightened with joy; “ah! ah! Here is d’Artagnan. I shall then get hold of an idea!”

At these words Mouston, doubting what was going on behind him, got out of the way, smiling kindly at the friend of his master, who thus found himself freed from the material obstacle which had prevented his reaching d’Artagnan. Porthos made his sturdy knees crack again in rising, and crossing the room in two strides, found himself face to face with his friend, whom he folded to his breast with a force of affection that seemed to increase with every day. “Ah!” he repeated, “you are always welcome, dear friend; but just now you are more welcome than ever.”

“But you seem to have the megrims here!” exclaimed d’Artagnan.

Porthos replied by a look expressive of dejection. “Well, then, tell me all about it, Porthos, my friend, unless it is a secret.”

“In the first place,” returned Porthos, “you know I have no secrets from you. This, then, is what saddens me.”

“Wait a minute, Porthos; let me first get rid of all this litter of satin and velvet!”

“Oh, never mind,” said Porthos, contemptuously; “it is all trash.”

“Trash, Porthos! Cloth at twenty-five livres an ell! gorgeous satin! regal velvet!”

“Then you think these clothes are⁠—”

“Splendid, Porthos, splendid! I’ll wager that you alone in France have so many; and suppose you never had any more made, and were to live to be a hundred years of age, which wouldn’t astonish me in the very least, you could still wear a new dress the day of your death, without being obliged to see the nose of a single tailor from now till then.”

Porthos shook his head.

“Come, my friend,” said d’Artagnan, “this unnatural melancholy in you frightens me. My dear Porthos, pray get it out, then. And the sooner the better.”

“Yes, my friend, so I will: if, indeed, it is possible.”

“Perhaps you have received bad news from Bracieux?”

“No: they have felled the wood, and it has yielded a third more than the estimate.”

“Then there has been a falling-off in the pools of Pierrefonds?”

“No, my friend: they have been fished, and there is enough left to stock all the pools in the neighborhood.”

“Perhaps your estate at Vallon has been destroyed by an earthquake?”

“No, my friend; on the contrary, the ground was struck with lightning a hundred paces from the château, and a fountain sprung up in a place entirely destitute of water.”

“What in the world is the matter, then?”

“The fact is, I have received an invitation for the fête at Vaux,” said Porthos, with a lugubrious expression.

“Well! do you complain of that? The king has caused a hundred mortal heartburnings among the courtiers by refusing invitations. And so, my dear friend, you are really going to Vaux?”

“Indeed I am!”

“You will see a magnificent sight.”

“Alas! I doubt it, though.”

“Everything that is grand in France will be brought together there!”

“Ah!” cried Porthos, tearing out a lock of hair in his despair.

“Eh! good heavens, are you ill?” cried d’Artagnan.

“I am as firm as the Pont-Neuf! It isn’t that.”

“But what is it, then?”

“ ’Tis that I have no clothes!”

D’Artagnan stood petrified. “No clothes! Porthos, no clothes!” he cried, “when I see at least fifty suits on the floor.”

“Fifty, truly; but not one which fits me!”

“What? not one that fits you? But are you not measured, then, when you give an order?”

“To be sure he is,” answered Mouston; “but unfortunately I have gotten stouter!”

“What! you stouter!”

“So much so that I am now bigger than the baron. Would you believe it, Monsieur?”

Parbleu! it seems to me that is quite evident.”

“Do you see, stupid?” said Porthos, “that is quite evident!”

“Be still, my dear Porthos,” resumed d’Artagnan, becoming slightly impatient, “I don’t understand why your clothes should not fit you, because Mouston has grown stouter.”

“I am going to explain it,” said Porthos. “You remember having related to me the story of the Roman general Antony, who had always seven wild boars kept roasting, each cooked up to a different point; so that he might be able to have his dinner at any time of the day he chose to ask for it. Well, then, I resolved, as at any time I might be invited to court to spend a week, I resolved to have always seven suits ready for the occasion.”

“Capitally reasoned, Porthos⁠—only a man must have a fortune like yours to gratify such whims. Without counting the time lost in being measured, the fashions are always changing.”

“That is exactly the point,” said Porthos, “in regard to which I flattered myself I had hit on a very ingenious device.”

“Tell me what it is; for I don’t doubt your genius.”

“You remember what Mouston once was, then?”

“Yes; when he used to call himself Mousqueton.”

“And you remember, too, the period when he began to grow fatter?”

“No, not exactly. I beg your pardon, my good Mouston.”

“Oh! you are not in fault, Monsieur,” said Mouston, graciously. “You were in Paris, and as for us, we were at Pierrefonds.”

“Well, well, my dear Porthos; there was a time when Mouston began to grow fat. Is that what you wished to say?”

“Yes, my friend; and I greatly rejoice over the period.”

“Indeed, I believe you do,” exclaimed d’Artagnan.

“You understand,” continued Porthos, “what a world of trouble it spared for me.”

“No, I don’t⁠—by any means.”

“Look here, my friend. In the first place, as you have said, to be measured is a loss of time, even though it occur only once a fortnight. And then, one may be travelling; and then you wish to have seven suits always with you. In short, I have a horror of letting anyone take my measure. Confound it! either one is a nobleman or not. To be scrutinized and scanned by a fellow who completely analyzes you, by inch and line⁠—’tis degrading! Here, they find you too hollow; there, too prominent. They recognize your strong and weak points. See, now, when we leave the measurer’s hands, we are like those strongholds whose angles and different thicknesses have been ascertained by a spy.”

“In truth, my dear Porthos, you possess ideas entirely original.”

“Ah! you see when a man is an engineer⁠—”

“And has fortified Belle-Isle⁠—’tis natural, my friend.”

“Well, I had an idea, which would doubtless have proved a good one, but for Mouston’s carelessness.”

D’Artagnan glanced at Mouston, who replied by a slight movement of his body, as if to say, “You will see whether I am at all to blame in all this.”

“I congratulated myself, then,” resumed Porthos, “at seeing Mouston get fat; and I did all I could, by means of substantial feeding, to make him stout⁠—always in the hope that he would come to equal myself in girth, and could then be measured in my stead.”

“Ah!” cried d’Artagnan. “I see⁠—that spared you both time and humiliation.”

“Consider my joy when, after a year and a half’s judicious feeding⁠—for I used to feed him up myself⁠—the fellow⁠—”

“Oh! I lent a good hand myself, Monsieur,” said Mouston, humbly.

“That’s true. Consider my joy when, one morning, I perceived Mouston was obliged to squeeze in, as I once did myself, to get through the little secret door that those fools of architects had made in the chamber of the late Madame du Vallon, in the château of Pierrefonds. And, by the way, about that door, my friend, I should like to ask you, who know everything, why these wretches of architects, who ought to have the compasses run into them, just to remind them, came to make doorways through which nobody but thin people can pass?”

“Oh, those doors,” answered d’Artagnan, “were meant for gallants, and they have generally slight and slender figures.”

“Madame du Vallon had no gallant!” answered Porthos, majestically.

“Perfectly true, my friend,” resumed d’Artagnan; “but the architects were probably making their calculations on a basis of the probability of your marrying again.”

“Ah! that is possible,” said Porthos. “And now I have received an explanation of how it is that doorways are made too narrow, let us return to the subject of Mouston’s fatness. But see how the two things apply to each other. I have always noticed that people’s ideas run parallel. And so, observe this phenomenon, d’Artagnan. I was talking to you of Mouston, who is fat, and it led us on to Madame du Vallon⁠—”

“Who was thin?”

“Hum! Is it not marvelous?”

“My dear friend, a savant of my acquaintance, M. Costar, has made the same observation as you have, and he calls the process by some Greek name which I forget.”

“What! my remark is not then original?” cried Porthos, astounded. “I thought I was the discoverer.”

“My friend, the fact was known before Aristotle’s days⁠—that is to say, nearly two thousand years ago.”

“Well, well, ’tis no less true,” said Porthos, delighted at the idea of having jumped to a conclusion so closely in agreement with the greatest sages of antiquity.

“Wonderfully⁠—but suppose we return to Mouston. It seems to me, we have left him fattening under our very eyes.”

“Yes, Monsieur,” said Mouston.

“Well,” said Porthos, “Mouston fattened so well, that he gratified all my hopes, by reaching my standard; a fact of which I was well able to convince myself, by seeing the rascal, one day, in a waistcoat of mine, which he had turned into a coat⁠—a waistcoat, the mere embroidery of which was worth a hundred pistoles.”

“ ’Twas only to try it on, Monsieur,” said Mouston.

“From that moment I determined to put Mouston in communication with my tailors, and to have him measured instead of myself.”

“A capital idea, Porthos; but Mouston is a foot and a half shorter than you.”

“Exactly! They measured him down to the ground, and the end of the skirt came just below my knee.”

“What a marvelous man you are, Porthos! Such a thing could happen only to you.”

“Ah! yes; pay your compliments; you have ample grounds to go upon. It was exactly at that time⁠—that is to say, nearly two years and a half ago⁠—that I set out for Belle-Isle, instructing Mouston (so as always to have, in every event, a pattern of every fashion) to have a coat made for himself every month.”

“And did Mouston neglect complying with your instructions? Ah! that was anything but right, Mouston.”

“No, Monsieur, quite the contrary; quite the contrary!”

“No, he never forgot to have his coats made; but he forgot to inform me that he had got stouter!”

“But it was not my fault, Monsieur! your tailor never told me.”

“And this to such an extent, Monsieur,” continued Porthos, “that the fellow in two years has gained eighteen inches in girth, and so my last dozen coats are all too large, from a foot to a foot and a half.”

“But the rest; those which were made when you were of the same size?”

“They are no longer the fashion, my dear friend. Were I to put them on, I should look like a fresh arrival from Siam; and as though I had been two years away from court.”

“I understand your difficulty. You have how many new suits? nine? thirty-six? and yet not one to wear. Well, you must have a thirty-seventh made, and give the thirty-six to Mouston.”

“Ah! Monsieur!” said Mouston, with a gratified air. “The truth is, that Monsieur has always been very generous to me.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that I hadn’t that idea, or that I was deterred by the expense? But it wants only two days to the fête; I received the invitation yesterday; made Mouston post hither with my wardrobe, and only this morning discovered my misfortune; and from now till the day after tomorrow, there isn’t a single fashionable tailor who will undertake to make me a suit.”

“That is to say, one covered all over with gold, isn’t it?”

“I wish it so! undoubtedly, all over.”

“Oh, we shall manage it. You won’t leave for three days. The invitations are for Wednesday, and this is only Sunday morning.”

“ ’Tis true; but Aramis has strongly advised me to be at Vaux twenty-four hours beforehand.”

“How, Aramis?”

“Yes, it was Aramis who brought me the invitation.”

“Ah! to be sure, I see. You are invited on the part of M. Fouquet?”

“By no means! by the king, dear friend. The letter bears the following as large as life: ‘M. le Baron du Vallon is informed that the king has condescended to place him on the invitation list⁠—’ ”

“Very good; but you leave with M. Fouquet?”

“And when I think,” cried Porthos, stamping on the floor, “when I think I shall have no clothes, I am ready to burst with rage! I should like to strangle somebody or smash something!”

“Neither strangle anybody nor smash anything, Porthos; I will manage it all; put on one of your thirty-six suits, and come with me to a tailor.”

“Pooh! my agent has seen them all this morning.”

“Even M. Percerin?”

“Who is M. Percerin?”

“Oh! only the king’s tailor!”

“Oh, ah, yes,” said Porthos, who wished to appear to know the king’s tailor, but now heard his name mentioned for the first time; “to M. Percerin’s, by Jove! I was afraid he would be too busy.”

“Doubtless he will be; but be at ease, Porthos; he will do for me what he wouldn’t do for another. Only you must allow yourself to be measured!”

“Ah!” said Porthos, with a sigh, “ ’tis vexatious, but what would you have me do?”

“Do? As others do; as the king does.”

“What! do they measure the king, too? does he put up with it?”

“The king is a beau, my good friend, and so are you, too, whatever you may say about it.”

Porthos smiled triumphantly. “Let us go to the king’s tailor,” he said; “and since he measures the king, I think, by my faith, I may do worse than allow him to measure me!”